Perhaps you can imagine what it must have been like for Simon Peter, 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 rise up far too easily in all of us poor sinners. So you know how painful and difficult it is to see others receiving the love that you are longing for, which seems so elusive to you. You work so hard for it, and yet it is given so freely to others.
Peter had just been questioned regarding his love for Jesus, not once, not twice, but three times in a row. He was stung by that questioning, but so was he also reminded of his three-fold denial of Jesus. He had made such big, bold promises, only to fail miserably when put to the test. In time he will be glorify the Christ he once denied, by way of his own imprisonment, suffering, and death. But for now he cannot help but wonder, and even to ask: “Well, then, what about that guy?”
Yes, indeed. What about him? Your parents’ favorite child, or the teacher’s pet? If you’re going to have to eat crow for your mistakes, and if you must suffer the Cross, then what’s in it for him?
It stirs your restless heart, because you want so much to be loved, to be liked for who you are, to have friends who enjoy your company and who 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 you feel things and express yourself 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 be able to sympathize with Simon Peter, as he wonders about St. John in this particular Holy Gospel, 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 comparison, it can sometimes ring hollow when you’re given the consolation of the Gospel and the promises of Jesus Christ, because those words can feel and seem so intangible, so far away and far removed from where you are and what you’re going through.
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 with bodies in the same room as you, with faces and voices you can actually see and hear. 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 your neighbors inappropriately, nor against their will. Love does not force itself on anyone. But neither does it keep its distance or keep your neighbor away at arm’s length.
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. Trust the Lord Jesus, and love your neighbor, even if you are hurt or disappointed 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 are given the opportunity, and as the Lord enables you to do, especially within your own particular place in life.
Do not alienate yourself from others, especially not from the fellowship of the Body of Christ. Nothing could be more self-defeating than that! It is harmful to your neighbors, as well, to your brothers and sisters in Christ, when you remove yourself from the life of the Church; but it will destroy your own Christian faith and life. So 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 confessing 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 detachment, 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 your neighbors, in the confidence of the Lord’s love and service for you. Christ will 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 be concerned with what your neighbor may be given in this life, but receive your own stewardship in faith and carry it out in love. Whether a lot or a little, use whatever the Lord has entrusted to you faithfully, throughout the life to which the Lord has called you. Whether you remain until His reappearing or die a martyr’s death, or if you simply grow up and grow old until you wither and fade like the grass and its flowers, be and live as a disciple. Follow Christ and learn from Him.
Remember that the Lord Jesus Christ has called you by name, and realize that you are His; that you also 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 any good thing from you.
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 never describing himself by name, but only as the disciple whom Jesus loves. He would have you know that place as your own, just as you are known so intimately and well by the incarnate God who is Love.
What has been written, what is read to you, and what you hear in the reading and proclamation of this Word, is in fact the very Son of God, your Savior, Jesus Christ. All that He is, everything He has, and everything He does, it is all for you, and it is given to you by His grace in this Word.
It is more than imagining yourself in the story of Jesus and John. By the preaching of this Word the story of Jesus is actually given to you, so that it becomes your own story. Whatever St. John was given to see and hear and touch and receive, he has handed over to you as an Apostle and Evangelist of the Word. For the revelation of God in the Person of the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus, has been given to His bond-servant John, to His human angel or messenger, who has been sent to signify this Word-made-Flesh to you through the preaching and 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 in the presence of His disciples. 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.
So these things that have been written by the holy Apostles, have been written for you and for the whole Church on earth in all the times and places ever since. The same story of Jesus continues as pastors preach the apostolic Scriptures and carry out the apostolic Ministry in His Name.
It is your story, beloved disciple, in which you follow Christ Jesus through death into life, sharing His Cross and Resurrection, His Ascension and His Life everlasting. By this Word that you hear and receive, you share in the fellowship of the holy Apostles with Christ Jesus; and in Christ Jesus your fellowship is with the 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, as one family of one God and Father, having the same heart and mind and partaking of 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 as disciples whom He loves, you all eat of the one Bread which is His Body, and you all drink of the one Cup which is the New Testament in His Blood.
Therefore, you have neither more nor less than St. Peter or St. John, nor do you have any more or less than any of your fellow Christians. Let there be no envy or jealousy among you, nor any arrogance or pride. 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 St. Mary.
Blessed indeed is the womb that bore Him and the breasts that nursed the infant Christ Child. Yes, indeed. But all the more blessed are she and you and all who hear and believe the Word of Christ and keep it in true faith, who ponder it in heart and mind, and who treasure it in body and soul.
Blessed, too, are the eyes of the holy Apostles who saw the Lord; and blessed are their ears which heard Him. And yet, so says the Lord Himself, more blessed are those who have not seen with their eyes, but who 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 to teach but to write the Holy Scriptures — St. John the foremost among the Twelve, who wrote the Gospel, three Epistles, and the Book of the Revelation. But no less blessed are those who read and those who hear those Scriptures.
Here in the preaching and hearing of 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 on to. Not only does He hear and answer your prayers in peace, but He speaks to you in mercy. His Word enters by way of your ears into your heart and mind, your body and soul, unto the life everlasting.
And here within the fellowship of His Church there is for you an intimacy both 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 so do you love in return. There is nothing unrequited here. You love Him because He first loves you. And in loving this dear Lord Jesus Christ, you love both God and Man. In Him, therefore, you learn to love your neighbor as yourself; and no less do 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 that He speaks to you by His Son; and it is for that same holy purpose that God the Son, Christ Jesus, has given you His servant John, and that He 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 in this place, that you may receive His forgiveness, and by His forgiveness believe in Him, and, believing in Him, have life in His Name.
That Life is surely yours in the Word of Christ. It rings even now in your ears, it echos upon your lips, and it abides within your body and soul. Thus do St. John and the whole glorious company of the Apostles rejoice in the fullness of joy, and all the angels and archangels of heaven rejoice 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 and ever.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.