Saint John and the writing of his Gospel
Saint John was one of the Twelve Apostles, or chief disciples of Jesus Christ. He and his elder brother James were sons of a fisherman called Zebedee, and Jesus called them to follow Him almost as soon as He started preaching. John must have been a very young man at the time and probably was the youngest of the apostles. Three of the Twelve - James, Peter and John - seem to have been especially loved by Jesus, who permitted them to be present on special occasions when the others were not so privileged. For example, it was these three alone were with Him on the mountain when, in the words of St. Matthew, Jesus 'was transfigured [changed] before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light'. Again, it was these three who were with Jesus while He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane just before He was arrested and crucified. As He was dying, Jesus left His mother and John in each other's care, saying, 'Woman, behold thy son!' and then to John, 'Behold thy mother!' This seems to show that Jesus had a very special affection for the youngest of His followers. In the Gospel of St. John, John is described as the 'disciple whom Jesus loved', and he was the only one of the Twelve Apostles who stood by Jesus on the day of His crucifixion, when the others all ran away in fear. After Jesus had ascended into Heaven, John took a leading part in preaching this good news. It is believed that he alone of the Twelve was saved from a martyr's death and that he lived to be a very old man.
Scholars are not sure whether the Gospel of St. John, as we know it, was written by John himself or by one of his followers who had the same name. This need not worry us very much as most scholars agree that St. John supplied the facts of the story, whether he actually wrote it down or not.
It was the latest of the four Gospels to be written and is quite different from the other three. When John either wrote the book or gave the facts for it he was a very old man and had had time to sort out the things he had heard Jesus say many years earlier. He remembered many sayings which, at the time, had seemed unimportant and which the three earlier writers had not bothered to include in their books. Two generations or more after the death of Jesus, John began to see how important it was, for the sake of future generations, to write down all those parts of Jesus' teaching that other writers had left out of their books. If this was not done, some of it would be lost for ever. Therefore in the fourth Gospel we find many wonderful sayings and sermons of Jesus that are not found in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, who give as much space to the things that Jesus did as to the things that He said. Though John's is the hardest of the four Gospels to understand, many people believe that it is the greatest book in the Bible and that it shows us more clearly than any of the others what God is really like.
Saint John's day is celebrated on December 27.
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