A continuation of Karen Murano’s writing…
If it hasn’t already become obvious, I am particularly captivated by John’s message of unity, oneness, and intimacy that is displayed in multiple relationships: between Jesus and the Father, others, and particularly with John, himself.
I find him to be bold and humble in his gospel account. Some might say he was not humble at all, maybe even audacious to refer to himself as Jesus’ beloved, but I don’t see it as prideful at all. Frankly, I’m inspired. I’ve learned the hard way what it means to humbly receive love and the value of closeness. To fully receive love is a profound act of trust, and to allow intimate closeness offers a beautiful exchange of being known.
To me, this is the heart of John’s gospel. Because this message is tied to my personal testimony it makes me wonder if John started out with trust issues. As I stated earlier, physical closeness was not a cultural norm between men or women in John’s day. It’s kind of comical to imagine front door greeters at the synagogue, welcoming people with, “Love you, bro!”, and hugging all the religious leaders as they entered. Yet here is John, unashamedly locating himself in unusual closeness to Jesus… at His bosom, quite literally, “Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.” 13:23 NKJV The scene is so focused on the table conversation that the line is almost missed.
On a personal note, I’d like to think that if I were at the table that night I would be angling for that spot, too. A vivid childhood memory often comes to mind of a scene like this: I was 9 yrs old trying to share the coveted spot next to our mom (in between us) as we watched a scary movie. Jealous words were slung at me, and unfortunately, the story ends with a sad example of my brother being the beloved son in what I experienced as a painful betrayal (which kicked off decades of trust issues). I’m sure this is why I am always intrigued by John’s gospel. After a season of healing and forgiveness I often look for authentic closeness that offers safety and love.
Maybe John had something of a recovery story, too. The disciples had followed their Rabbi very closely for over three years, and this was [unknowingly] their final night with Him. They didn’t understand, even as He prophesied about the impending betrayal and separation from them. Nevertheless, on His chest is where John rests. Seemingly included as a byline in the midst of an otherwise gripping account. But was it just a minor byline? Are we to believe that John just happens to make a specific reference of unique closeness as he compiled his well orchestrated testimony… all those decades later. I don’t think so. But if not, why is it there?
The Last Supper has been creatively reimagined by many artists, countless times, placing John in awkward positions of being near Jesus, so we know it has been wondered about by generations. If we likened this moment to a modern Instagram post, we might wonder why would John take such a vulnerable selfie? How is it relevant to the narrative he is outlining? I appreciate the prompt for this paper to connect a gospel theme or story to the OT and show how the author chose to present Jesus as the culmination of Israel’s story. So to answer this and my own questions, I needed to break down the verse with a word study and place myself in John’s sandals, or cloak, as it were. (Since he was barefoot, but I digress.)
John would have known the Hebrew Bible well, especially the book of Isaiah; exposed to it first in his youth. He grew up in culture that typically engaged in practice of midrash to better understand the text. His account seems to answer the prophetic announcement Isaiah made of the Messiah in 40:11. I can only imagine his passion to finally share his testimony to this prophecy. The prophetic words of the coming Messiah must have been jumping off the [scrolls] in light of the truth of his experiences with Jesus, the incarnate Son of God.
For context, Isaiah has been warning of judgment and exile for the first 39 chapters, but in chapter 40 he takes a turn and begins overflowing with hope and comfort that God has planned for his people – if they return to him. Verse 11 offers a particularly loving word picture of the ultimate Shepherd (the Messiah) as he delivers his sheep, protecting them in the safety of his bosom. The word bosom (heq, in Hebrew) is a direct link to the intimate scene where we find John nestled in safety with Jesus at the infamous table.
So we have our first answer, this description of John’s closeness to Jesus was not a byline, it directly correlates with Isaiah’s word picture. Many translations avoid using this word and use lap instead, but that totally misses the point of who Jesus is and what he came to do. In fact, (our second answer for the prompt) Israel’s story comes into full light with the incarnation of Jesus as the Messiah, the Good Shepherd who rescues His sheep, and desires intimacy with his people. A reflection of the original loving unity found in the God-head: Father, Son and Spirit.
“He will tend his flock like a shepherd; “I am the good shepherd. I know my own
he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will and my own know me…
carry them in his bosom, and gently lead My sheep hear my voice, and I know them,
those that are with young.” Is 40:11 and they follow me. I give them eternal life,
and they will never perish, and no one will
snatch them out of my hand.” John 10:14, 27-28
Israel’s story, indeed. I can’t help but bring in the additional words of Isaiah in 52:6, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” The Good News, in fact, is for all mankind, as Jesus proclaims: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” 13:20 There is no safer place to be than carried in the bosom of our Good Shepherd, Jesus the Messiah; who will never let us go. The loving relationship John embraced with Jesus on earth no doubt transformed him, but even more so after witnessing His death and resurrection.
As I read it, he authors this account like the beloved sheep that Jesus carried. John authoritatively proclaims the Good News he witnessed, just as Isaiah faithfully prophesied what God gave him to speak. Both accounts invite the children of Israel to recognize Jesus as the incarnate Messiah. John framed his gospel with the truth of Jesus’ perfect love, highlighting the intimacy found in Jesus as the Good Shepherd. When Jesus taught this message it was familiar and yet it was not fully grasped until he died and returned as the risen King. John’s gospel is undeniable as eyewitness testimony with compelling evidence to that end. As children of God, we find our identity in our loving Father; this is how it was designed from the beginning. John was able to walk in this love and he didn’t keep it to himself, thankfully he declared it to the world so that all could find oneness with Him.