John, son of Zebedee


According to the Homily on the Gospel of John by John Chrysostom :

Chrysostom says,

“For when you have learned who he was, and from where, who his parents, and what his character, and then hear his voice and all his heavenly wisdom, then you shall know right well that these (doctrines) belong not to him, but to the Divine power stirring his soul.

We do know a little bit about John, son of Zebedee. First of all he was from Galilee. And Galilee was a place of no importance because the bible tells us that no Prophet arises out of Galilee and nothing good ever comes from this place. We can imagine it was neither an intellectual hub nor commercial. But from what we gather, it is more likely a poor part of the country. Obviously some sort of fishing industry must have thrived, but nothing remarkable.

Who is John’s father? Chrysostom assumes Zebedee must have been a very poor fisherman indeed to have taken both sons into same employment. Zebedee and his sons must have been with the poorest and most ignorant because they seem to be catching their fish in a certain little lake instead of at sea. When Christ called the brothers, they were mending their own nets – further proof they were not higher up on the ladder, even among the fishermen. Luke confirms John’s ignorance in Acts 4:13. Thus, we can be sure that John had no worldly instructions. in short, he was illiterate and ignorant.

If we were to meet John, what to expect – talk about fishing? Tackle, tides and net qualities? He had no other world. No other ideas about the world. His world was in fishing. With father and brother.

What happens to John after his experience with Christ? How does he speak then? Not of fishing, that’s for sure. But he speaks of heavenly things as if he had just come from there!

Did Christ give John special lessons? Considering that all of the disciples fled from Jesus at the crucifixion, it seems unlikely that Jesus imparted a special conviction on any of them. Yes they saw Him perform miracles, and heard Him speak for three years. But they were not convinced of His Deity in their hearts. It took the resurrection to do that and the coming of the Holy Spirit to gain knowledge and wisdom.

The transformation of the soul due to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is nothing but miraculous. We see it in the transformation of John and other Apostles. The poorest of the poor, the most ignorant, becoming the keepers of the keys to heaven.

Chrysostom says of vice and virtue:

Some of these things the disciples of Plato and Pythagoras enquired into. Of the other philosophers we need make no mention at all; they have all on this point been so excessively ridiculous; and those who have been among them in greater esteem than the rest, and who have been considered the leading men of science, are so more than the others; and they have composed and written somewhat on the subject of polity and doctrines, and in all have been more shamefully ridiculous than children. …As for doctrines of the soul, there is nothing excessively shameful that they have left unsaid; asserting that the souls of men become flies, and gnats, and bushes and God Himself is a soul; with some other the like indecencies. …..for since they assert everything on uncertain and fallacious arguments, they are like men carried here and there in Euripus, and never remain in the same place.

Not so this fisherman. For all he says is infallible. And standing as it were upon a rock, he never shifts his ground. For since he has been thought worthy to be in the most secret places, and has the Lord of all speaking within him, he is subject to nothing that is human. But others are only guessing at what they cannot see, have erred a great error and like drunkards have dashed against each other. And not only against each other, but also against themselves, by continually changing their opinion.

So here we have John. Where eastern religions seek to transform a soul with years of discipline and meditation and maybe “multiple lifetimes” of it, the fisherman John is transformed walking with Jesus.

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