The Beloved Disciple has been depicted in imagery of Jesus’ Last Supper as leaning against Jesus’ chest. This presentation of intimacy and security is derived from John 13:21-28. In this scene Jesus tells his disciples that he will be betrayed (v. 21). There is panic in the room as each disciple begins to suspect the other (v. 22). Then, as if a spotlight shines on one character while the rest of the stage goes dark, we are introduced to the Beloved Disciple’s state-of-being-in-crisis: leaning, reclining, secure (v. 23).
My pastor-friend Jeff Garner was the first to help me see the beauty of this scene. This unnamed disciple is known throughout the Fourth Gospel by titles that relate to Jesus’ love for him. Not his name. Not his family or tribe. Not the disciple’s love for Jesus. Not the disciple’s fidelity to Jesus. No. Jesus’ love for him.
To be beloved is to accept the love that is there already. That is it.
The disciples in the room that panic do not recline. These disciples do not relax. These disciples are as loved as the beloved, but the difference is that these disciples are not presented as secure in that love. Each begins to turn against the other. Isn’t this our posture toward one another when we fail to find our identity in Christ’s love for us? When we fear our place at the table?
Peter the great disciple, the apostle, the rock has the good sense to motion toward the Beloved: “Tell who it is of whom he is speaking.” Peter knows the Beloved’s relationship to Jesus allows him access to the answer that the rest of the disciples seek (v. 24). The Beloved turns to Jesus, asks Jesus who it is, and receives an answer: “…the one for whom I shall dip the morsel and give it to him.”
Amazingly, if we let the narrative guide us, at this point it could be the Beloved. The Beloved could betray Jesus. Jesus doesn’t say “you,” “Peter,” or even “Judas.” For a brief moment if we stop reading, let the scene pause, and wait, we realize it could be anyone in the room. It will be Judas, but it could have been the Beloved (v. 26).
As the narrative unfolds Judas is identified, but according to the Evangelist it is the Beloved who knows what is happening. Jesus knows. The Beloved knows. Everyone else remains insecure.
This Maundy Thursday as we remember Jesus’ commandments to love one another, and as we share the meal that symbolized his act on our behalf, let us remember that our love toward one another comes from recognizing our being loved (passive) by Jesus. The Beloved’s identity is grounded in Christ’s love for him. I pray that we may all experience this reality: beloved and secure.