It’s not hard to imagine how Simon Peter must have felt at that point, when he looked back and saw “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” who had also “leaned back on His bosom at the Supper.” Envy and jealousy, competition and resentment come far too easily to all of us poor sinners; so you know how hard it is to see others receive the love that you long for, which seems so elusive to you. You work so hard for it, and yet it is given so freely to others.
Peter has just been questioned regarding his love for Jesus, not once, not twice, but three times in a row. His feelings had been hurt by the questioning, but so was he also reminded of his three-fold denial of Jesus. Big promises he had given, but he fell far short when put to the test. In time he would be given to glorify the Christ he had once denied by his own imprisonment, suffering and death, but now he cannot help but wonder and even to ask: “Well, then, what about that guy?”
Yes, indeed, what about him? Your parent’s favorite child, or the teacher’s pet. If you’re going to have to eat crow for your mistakes, and if you will suffer the Cross, what’s in it for the others?
It eats away at you, because you want so much to be loved, to be liked for who you are, to have friends who enjoy your company and are glad to share their company with you. Real relationships are hard, they require work and effort, patience and self-sacrifice, but it would be inhuman to live without them. Personalities differ widely, and the way in which you feel and express things may be utterly unique, but the longing for love, for friendship and fellowship, for genuine intimacy, is common to all people, to men and women, boys and girls, and even to the holy Apostles.
But while you might easily sympathize with Simon Peter, then, as he wonders about St. John in this particular case, you might also be thinking to yourself: What does he have to complain about? After all, he also got to be with Jesus, to see Him in person, to eat and drink with Him.
By contrast, it can sometimes ring hollow for you, when you’re given the consolation of the Gospel and the promises of Christ Jesus, because those words can feel and seem so intangible, so far away and far removed from where you are.
You want a personal relationship with Jesus, something up close and more intimate than words and promises appear to give. You want personal relationships with other people, too, family and friends who have bodies in the room with you, with faces and voices you can see and hear in front of you. Everyone needs a hand to hold onto. Even a childlike faith desires a warm body, one with skin and a familiar smell, with hugs and kisses. So important is such human touch and contact that babies will not thrive but languish in every way without it. A lack of touch can even be deadly.
Take that into account when considering the hurts and needs and longing of your neighbors — including especially your own spouse and children, your parents and siblings. Of course you should not touch any of your neighbors inappropriately, nor against their will. Love does not force itself on anyone, but neither does it keep its distance or keep the neighbor at arm’s length away.
Are you, then, a body in the room for your brothers and sisters? Are you a face and a voice and a very present help, in both good times and bad, to share in the joys and sorrows of life on earth? Are you there with a helping hand, a listening ear, a comforting word, a pat on the back or a hug?
Truth be told, not only do you lack the love you want to have, but you are lacking in the love you ought to have for others. Whereas you should do unto others as you would have them do unto you — because it is the right thing to do, and all the more so because of God’s gracious love toward you in Christ Jesus — too often you and your neighbor play this waiting game with each other, neither of you wanting to love first, lest you be hurt or disappointed or taken advantage of.
Little children, do not sin in this way, but love from a heart of faith in all your words and actions, trusting Christ Jesus, whether you are hurt in the process, and whether or not your love is ever reciprocated. Do no harm to your neighbor, even if he should harm you. Do nothing wrong, but do good and give help, as you have the opportunity to do so, and as the Lord enables you to do.
Do not alienate yourself from others, especially not from the fellowship of the Body of Christ. Nothing could be more self-defeating than that! But it is harmful to your neighbor, too, to your brothers and sisters in Christ, as also to yourself and to your Christian faith and life. Therefore, do not hide yourself away in the darkness, but live and walk in the Light of Christ, that is to say, by the hearing and confession of His Word.
Love the Lord your God, and so love your neighbor. You cannot love the one without the other. If you would love God, whom you cannot see, then love your neighbor, whom you can see. Not from a distance, nor with cold dispassion, but with the tender warmth of personal attention and affection, and with the genuine passion of self-giving and self-sacrifice.
Follow Christ Jesus in taking up the Cross to love and serve others, in the confidence of His love and service for you. He shall not abandon you, no matter how things may go.
In fixing your focus on Him, do not compare and contrast and compete with others. Do not concern yourself with what your neighbor may be given, but receive your own stewardship in faith and administer the same in love. Use your time, treasure and talents faithfully, whether they be few or many, unto the life and death to which the Lord Jesus calls you. Whether you will remain until His reappearing, or die a martyr’s death, or simply go the way of all flesh, like the grass of the field and its perishing flowers, be His disciple, and so follow Him and learn from Him.
For He has called you by name, and you are His, and you are a disciple whom Jesus loves. There is nothing lacking in His love for you, nor anything lacking in His personal relationship with you, nor does He withhold from you any good thing.
St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, beloved of the Lord Jesus, has made a place for you in his writing of the Holy Gospel. In fact, he has written you into his own place, by speaking never of himself by name, but as the disciple whom Jesus loves. He would have you know that place as your own, as one who is known so intimately and well by the incarnate God, who is Love, who in His love for you has become your Light and Life and Salvation.
It is a well-crafted literary device, but this is a far more powerful Word than any ordinary rhetoric. What has been written, what is read to you, and what you hear in the reading and proclamation of this Word, is in truth the very Person of the Son of God, your Savior, in His own human flesh and blood. So that all He is, everything He has, and everything He does, it is all for you, and given to you, and shared with you by His grace.
You are not simply given to hear or imagine yourself in the story of Jesus and John, but the story of Jesus is given to you — by this Word and the preaching of it — as your own story. And whatever St. John was blessed to see and hear and touch and receive, he has handed over to you by this Word of Christ. For the revelation of God in the Person of His incarnate Son, Christ Jesus, has been given to His bond-servant John, his human angel or messenger, and he has been sent to signify this Word-made-Flesh to you through the apostolic Ministry of the Gospel.
That is why the many other things which Jesus does would overflow the whole world with books, if they were all written down; because He keeps on preaching and performing the signs of His glory and the wonders of His grace. He who is the almighty and eternal Word of the Father continues to abide with us in flesh and blood, and His own Body remains the true Tabernacle of His Church on earth.
So these things that have been written by the holy Apostles, have been written for you and for the whole Church in all times and places ever since. The same story of Jesus continues as pastors preach the apostolic Scriptures and perform the apostolic Ministry in His Name and stead.
It is your story, beloved disciple, in which you follow the Lord Jesus through death into life, sharing His Cross and Resurrection, His Ascension and His Life everlasting.
By this Word, you share the fellowship of the holy Apostles with Christ Jesus, and in Christ Jesus your fellowship is with His Father and the Holy Spirit. In that fellowship with the one true God, the Holy Trinity, you also have fellowship with one another, as one Body in Christ, one family of one God and Father, of the same heart and mind, and partaking of one and the same Holy Spirit.
You have one Lord, you confess one faith, you have received one Holy Baptism into the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, and you all eat of the one Bread which is His Body and drink of the one Cup which is the New Testament in His Blood.
Therefore, you have neither more nor any less than Peter or John, nor do any of you have any more or less than any other Christian. Let there be no envy or jealousy among you, nor any arrogance or pride, but if you must compete, do so in love and service for each other. Glorify the Lord Jesus with your body, with all your words and actions, whether in life or in death, in whatever your particular calling may be. For in the Word of the Gospel, the Glory of God in Christ Jesus, your Savior, is given to you by His grace. It is given to you in the flesh, in the cleansing of your body and soul, and in the food and drink of His Body and Blood, conceived and born of Mary.
Blessed indeed is the womb that bore Him and the breasts that nursed the infant Christ Child. Yes, but all the more blessed are she and you and all who hear and believe His Word and keep it in faith, who ponder it in heart and mind, and treasure it in body and soul.
Blessed, too, are the eyes of the holy apostles, who saw the Lord, and their ears, which heard Him. And yet, more blessed are those who have not seen with their eyes, and yet have believed the testimony of the apostolic preaching, who hear and follow the voice of the Good Shepherd in the Word of His bond-servants in every age.
Blessed are those who were given not only to preach and teach but to write the Holy Scriptures — St. John the foremost among the Twelve — but no less blessed are those who read and those who hear those Scriptures.
Here in this Word is your personal relationship with Jesus. Here is your friendship with God, who has a body and a face, a voice of love and a hand to hold. Not only does He hear and receive your prayer in peace, but He speaks to you in mercy, through the hearing of your ears into your heart and mind, body and soul.
Here there is an intimacy more tender and more secure than any other. For here in the Lord’s Supper, at His Table, you recline upon His breast and find your Sabbath Rest in Him, even as He feeds you with His Body and His Blood. In Him, too, you find your place in the bosom of His God and Father in heaven.
Within His Body, you are loved, and you love in return. There is nothing unrequited here. You love Him, because He first and foremost loves you. In Him you love both God and Man. So do you also love your neighbor as yourself, and your brothers and sisters in Christ love you. Whether married or unmarried, young or old, orphaned, widowed or bereft, you belong to the fellowship of Christ and to the Family of His Father.
It is for that purpose that God has given you His Son, and speaks to you by His Son; and for that purpose that God the Son, Christ Jesus, has given you His servant John, and speaks to you by that holy Apostle and Evangelist. He has caused His Word to be written, and He causes that same Word to be preached, that you may receive His forgiveness, and by His forgiveness believe in Him, and, believing in Him, have life in His Name.
Surely that life is yours — it rings even now in your ears and echos upon your lips, and abides with you in body and soul — for which St. John and the whole glorious company of the Apostles rejoice in the fullness of joy, and all the angels and archangels of heaven with them. And so do we also give thanks and praise to our Lord Jesus, the Word-made-Flesh, who with His Father and the Holy Spirit is the one true God, both now and forever. Amen