Among Jesus’ inner circle, there are three who stand out – Peter, James and John.
I love Peter because he’s just so – human. He has a passion that far exceeds his ability to grasp the real significance of the moment. When Jesus was transfigured and began chatting with Moses and Elijah, Peter saw it was good, and he wanted to set up three booths (tents). He didn’t realize that Moses and Elijah weren’t going to be staying. Even more importantly, he was oblivious to the fact that Jesus shared this with his inner three to help bolster their courage for his upcoming death. It was for their benefit. I can picture myself in Peter’s place offering to get some chairs and stumbling all over myself.
When Jesus told Peter He was going to wash Peter’s feet, the apostle protested because washing people’s feet was something not even a slave could be compelled to do. When Jesus explained to Peter that this was important, Peter immediately wanted to have his head and hands washed as well.
When Jesus foretold his death, Peter objected – basically saying, “Don’t talk that way!” Jesus admonished him and told him he needed to be on a higher plane. He referred to Peter as a Satan – something that must have stung, even from such a loving friend.
And, of course, after he denied Jesus three times, he wept bitterly.
Peter was a man of passion and of faith, but primarily a man. He was nothing even close to perfect, but he just kept trying.
John was the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” I’ve seen all kinds of explanations for this, but my own belief was that John was the apostle that was Jesus’ best friend. The other apostles were more like coworkers or business associates. Peter was the Chief Operating Officer. Judas was the Treasurer – apparently a crooked on, but nevertheless the money man. Jesus didn’t have a good marketing manager so after He ascended to heaven, He knocked Paul off his horse to get his attention, and then put him to work. John, on the other hand, I believe was the person with whom Jesus could talk freely and, well, just be Himself. I suspect that even Jesus did not like being “on” all the time.
At the last supper John sat next to Jesus and leaned his head on Jesus’ chest. While we Americans jealously guard our personal space, in the Middle East, even today, men hold hands or show friendship in more physical ways than we do.
John was the one who we know stayed with Jesus during his crucifixion. While some passages refer to the people watching Jesus death “at a distance,” we know John was close enough for Jesus to place His mother in John’s care. The Bible tells us that after Jesus died, John brought Mary into his own home.
It’s commonly believed that John was spared martyrdom, unlike the other apostles. Perhaps Jesus could lay down his own life, but couldn’t let that happen to his best friend.
James was John’s brother, a fisherman and the son of Zebedee and Salome (more about her tomorrow.) It is believed that James and John were fishing and business partners with Peter and his brother Andrew. John had been a disciple of John the Baptist. When the Baptizer told him to “Behold the Lamb of God!” he left to follow Jesus. When he got home he told James, his brother, that he thought he’d found the Messiah. When Jesus came by and invited them to follow, James and John both left their nets, their boat and their father and followed Jesus.
Along with Peter and John, James witnessed the raising of Jarius’ daughter from the dead and the Transfiguration. These were the three who were invited to pray with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane after the Last Supper. Unfortunately, they couldn’t stay awake. That was when Jesus pointed out that “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”
Salome, James and John’s mother, in a fit of parental enthusiasm, asked Jesus to arrange for her sons to be seated in Heaven at Jesus right and left hand. Jesus had to tell her that such was not a decision He could make.
There were two apostles named James, and John’s brother was known as “James the Greater,” which probably only meant that he was taller. He’s not a major figure in John’s gospel, but John was humble and avoided naming himself whenever possible. When it was absolutely necessary he often used a phrase like “another disciple.” It’s believed that he extended the same courtesy to his brother.
Three close friends of Jesus. All three of these men were dirt-under-the-fingernails, smelled-like-fish, real human beings – not marble statues with angelic expressions. Three men who were as human as you and I. Three sources of wonderful inspiration on this Holy Thursday.