Although we now know him primarily as the author of the Gospel that bears his name, the picture that is formed of St. John the Apostle in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke give us an interesting insight into his growth as a disciple of Jesus. It is perhaps comforting to know that, like us, his understanding of the Lord came, not in a single flash of insight, but in halting steps and stages.

John the Apostle most likely began as a follower of John the Baptist; however, once called by Jesus, both he and his brother, James, “immediately… left their boat and their father and followed Him” (Mt 4:22). Yet, despite the promptness of their response, it soon became obvious that both of them had much to learn.

At one point in the Gospel of Matthew, their mother asked Jesus if her sons could have places of honor in His kingdom – one sitting on His right and the other on His left. When Jesus replied by asking if they could drink from the same cup He would have to drink, they confidently replied, “We can.” Jesus then used the occasion to instruct all the Apostles about the true nature of discipleship: “[W]hoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave … the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mt 20:27-28).

On another occasion, in the Gospel of Luke, when The Twelve were passing through a Samaritan village, the people there would not welcome them because they were on their way to Jerusalem. Indignant that Jesus was treated so inhospitably, both brothers asked if they could “call down fire from heaven to consume them.” Jesus’ response was to rebuke the two and continue on with His journey (Lk 9:54-55).

Apparently, however, the longer John traveled, lived with and learned from the Master, the more Jesus’ message took hold of him. Privileged to be with both Peter and James at the Transfiguration, at the raising of Jairus’ daughter and in the Garden of Gethsemane, he was the only disciple who remained at the foot of the cross to comfort Mary, and it was to him that Jesus entrusted the care of His mother: “Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home” (Jn 19:27). It was also John, the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” who, along with Peter, would be one of the first two Apostles to witness to the resurrection.

According to tradition, John lived longer than any of the other disciples and was the only one not to die a martyr. It is said that when he was an old man, people would come from many miles away to hear him preach; his message, on every occasion was simple, yet profound: “Children, love one another.”

John died in Ephesus around 98 A.D. The patron saint of hospitals, the sick, nurses, firefighters, alcoholics and booksellers, his feast day is celebrated on Dec. 27.

Sources for this article include:

Fonck, Leopold. “St. John the Evangelist.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910.

“Saint John the Apostle.” CatholicSaints.Info. 3 June 2018.