“He saw and believed” (John 20:8).
1 John 1:1-4; John 20: 1a, 2-8
The St. John we commemorate today encompasses several possible figures in the life of the early church: John of Zebedee, the fisherman, brother of James, and among the first disciples called by Jesus; John, the author of the fourth Gospel and letters, identified as the “Beloved Disciple,” and John, the author of the Book of Revelation.
Today’s first reading from the First Letter of John is a moving description of the author's encounter with Jesus as the “Word of life” made visible: “from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our own eyes, what we have looked upon and touched with our hands.” The author’s witness to the Incarnation is both mystical and profoundly human, as though he were responding to those who had failed to grasp the divine mystery in the human Jesus as the heart of the Gospel.
Likewise, the scene portrayed in today’s Gospel grounds the reality of the risen Christ in the witness of three major figures in the early church: Mary Magdalene, the first one to meet Jesus alive again after his death; Peter, the leader of the Apostles; and the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” who believed because he saw with his heart. His testimony to us is that love is the basis of faith. An intimate relationship with Jesus is what opens our eyes to his transformed presence.
What other witnesses to the events of the crucifixion, the empty tomb and the preaching of the Apostles cannot grasp is evident to those who love Jesus. This is the testimony of John. The truth of who Jesus was and is will continue to elude skeptics, scholars and thinkers who demand logical proof, historical evidence and eye-witness testimony before they will believe. Understanding seeking faith can give us the questions, but only faith seeking understanding will open the eyes of our minds and hearts to reveal that Jesus is the Answer to all our questions about God and the meaning of human existence.
We celebrate John the Apostle, evangelist, mystic and beloved disciple immediately after Christmas to remind ourselves that the Word-made-flesh will makes its dwelling in our human experience if we open ourselves to Jesus in faith. To those who believe, the face of God is visible everywhere, in all creation and especially in our brothers and sisters. To those who believe, life is a journey of discovery in the company of Jesus, who invites us to follow him, to imitate him, to be formed by his Word and transformed by his death and resurrection.
Faith makes real the love of God, allowing us to see it, hear it, touch it every day. Faith surrounds us with other believers who will support us in times of doubt and darkness by the light of their experience and insights. Once we take that first step and surrender ourselves to faith, we are never alone, but on the one pilgrimage that leads beyond the grave to glory. This is the joy of the Gospel.