Formations 06.28.2020: The Beloved One

John 21:20-25

Who is your best friend? Why would you give the person that title?

The word “best” implies the one at the top of the list, a single person, but I’ve had many best friends in my lifetime—often two or three at once. Childhood pals who helped me imagine my future through pretend play. Middle school besties who navigated puberty and awkwardness at my side. High school friends with whom I exchanged the deepest desires and hopes and fears. College roommates who walked with me to adulthood.

Now, I have a handful of women who have been my friends since I got married and started a family. We have listened, shared, encouraged, cried, laughed, and dreamed together. I can trust them with anything, and they can trust me. We hold each other up in faith and loyalty and love. It’s hard to imagine my life without them.

We all need such friends. I think Jesus needed them too. When he lived on earth, he was God. He was divine. He was immortal and eternal. He was also human, with fears, sadness, burdens, hopes, dreams, and desires. He needed his friends.

Scholars have debated the identity of one of these friends—the so-called “Beloved Disciple.” Who was this person whom Jesus loved? What made him different from the other disciples like feisty Peter or questioning Thomas? Scripture indicates that this disciple may be the writer of John’s Gospel (see John 21:24), so many interpreters identify him as John. What kind of confidence must he have had in his relationship with Jesus to self-identify as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (see John 13:1; 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7; and, from today’s text, 21:20)?

Regardless of his actual identity, whether he was a particular individual or representative of “an ideal follower of Jesus” (Skinner), this man was a true friend to Jesus. He stayed with him, listened to him, and supported him. They had a mutual relationship. Jesus had much to give the Beloved Disciple, and this disciple had much to give Jesus.

As with any healthy relationship, this is the way it should be. I am not a true friend if I take everything my friends offer me and never give anything in return. The best friendships are built on mutuality.

But what can we possibly give Jesus? He has given us everything—even his life. He guides our everyday lives and shows us how to be better people. He has made it possible for us to live forever with God. What can we give him? We can give him our love, our adoration, our acts of service, our time, our thanks, and our praise. He is the ultimate best friend. More than that, he is our Lord and Savior.

Source: Christopher W. Skinner, “Who Was the Beloved Disciple?” Bible Odyssey, Society of Biblical Literature, 2019, https://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/people/related-articles/who-was-the-beloved-disciple.

Discussion

  • Who are some of the best friends you have had in your lifetime? Why are they the “best”?
  • What is the benefit of having very close friends? How can they affect your life? How can you affect theirs?
  • Do you think Jesus truly had friends, or were the people in the Bible simply his followers? What is the difference?
  • Why would it have been important for the human Jesus to have friends?
  • Is your relationship with Jesus Christ mutual, or do you think it is one-sided, leaning toward what he gives you? How can you bring this relationship into a better balance where you don’t only get but also give? What are some ways to do this that still afford Jesus Christ his rightful place as Lord and Savior?

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. In addition to this work, she is a freelance editor for other publishers and authors. She also regularly volunteers for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her teenage daughters, Samantha and Natalie, and her husband John. Occasionally, she appears onstage in community theater productions and can sometimes be found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel movies, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who, and she’s still trying to write a young adult novel that her girls will enjoy.

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