The feast day of our patron saint, John the Evangelist, falls on December 27 and is somewhat lost in the Christmas frenzy. Peter, James, and John formed the inner circle of the twelve apostles and, perhaps because he is still alive to write his gospel account so much later than the other writers, it is presumed that John was the youngest of all the apostles. And we are left to assume that John was as close to Jesus as anyone was. John was with Jesus when the daughter of Jairus was raised and is specifically named as accompanying Jesus at the Transfiguration and later in the Garden of Gethsemane. He is the disciple that Jesus charges from the cross to care for Mary and John is the first disciple to recognize the significance of the empty tomb. John, humbly I would argue rather than arrogantly, refers to himself in his gospel as the one whom Jesus loved. At the last supper John is described as the disciple lying close to the breast of Jesus and most artistic renderings of that event show John next to Jesus and seemingly even more intimate than the others. He is also the only one of the twelve who apparently died of old age rather than a martyr’s death. He is a faithful servant of both the earthly and risen Jesus and is a model of constancy.
The call to martyrdom is issued to very few of us. Rare is the person who is required literally to lay down life for another. All the apostles, save John, died a violent death and are much to be admired for their faithful willingness to shed blood for the cause of Christianity. Martyrdom, in early church history, was actually something many followers of Christ sought. They came to believe that such a sacrifice would draw others to the faith and, in fact, the spread of Christianity was helped along by these heroic deaths.
John’s call is more similar to what most of us face today. John lived the long life and, over time, witnessed to the power of the resurrection. You are I are not called to go out in a flash. We are invited to a faithful life of constancy. How can we serve Christ quietly and simply today in the lives that have been assigned to us?
In many ways, following John’s example requires more humility than the hero’s example. To serve in small ways over the long haul doesn’t bring us a lot of attention. It directs attention away from us and onto the grace of God which underpins all human activity. John’s faithfulness over time points beyond himself.
So many of our activities are self-centered. We want the accolades and the affirmation. We rise and fall with what others think about us or say about us. Too often, we give primarily to feel less guilty or better about ourselves. We resent it when our actions are not appreciated. We toot our own horns revealing a desperate fear that we are not enough.
The Christ event calls us to be faithful and giving. After we begin that journey we are then invited to be more quietly faithful, to lay our very lives close to the breast of Jesus and trust that his actions in the world are more important than ours. We are not called so much to win causes or contests but simply to serve. What good is a big show of anything without the daily follow-through afterwards? Marriages, friendships, parenting, careers, anything of any substance requires constancy. Do good daily and seek a more mature faith. Yearn to be a humble servant. The little things over the long haul are so much more important than the big ones here and there.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.