The Apostle Saint John and the Acts of the Apostles

I don’t know about other people at church, but I’m getting a proper kick out of the conjunction of the readings from Acts and the readings from the Gospel of S. John, in these Easter days. When, for example, on Friday we had the last chapter of the Gospel and Christ appeared on the shore and arranged another extraordinary catch of fish, the Apostle S. John (who always calls himself ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’) tells S. Peter, It is the Lord. And Peter leapt right into the water, of course, in his usual impetuous way:

“But when morning came, there was Jesus standing on the shore; only the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. ‘Have you caught anything, friends,’ Jesus asked them, ‘to season your bread with?’ And when they answered ‘No,’ He said to them, ‘Cast to the right of the boat, and you will have a catch.’ So they cast the net, and found before long they had no strength to haul it in, such a shoal of fish was in it. Whereupon the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord.’ And Simon Peter, hearing him say that it was the Lord, girded up the fisherman’s coat, which was all he wore, and sprang into the sea. The other disciples followed in the boat (they were not far from land, only some hundred yards away), dragging their catch in the net behind them.

Gospel of S. John, 21: 4-8

But there’s another aspect to this. It’s not just that Peter ran for the Lord, but that S. John and the other disciples (think, overseers/bishops) had a care for the boat and for the catch of fish (think, the Church). There’s an element of hierarchy here, and we know that Christ arranged the Apostles themselves in tiers: at the top was Peter with the primacy, around Peter are the two who with him formed the trio of witnesses to such events as the Transfiguration and the Agony in the Garden. And then came the others. In Scripture, we see order and hiearchy in all the works of God and it is no accident that Christ ordered the Church in an hiearchy as well. Well, parallel with the Friday gospel reading was the Friday first reading. 

Now, keep in mind that the Apostle S. John was known to the high-priest Caiaphas and his household (Gospel of S. John, 18: 16). Now, after the first Christian Pentecost, the Apostles were greatly changed. Peter and John are still close fellow-workers in this story, even as they approach the same high-priest Caiaphas and his father-in-law the chief-priest Annas before whom Christ had been dragged, on trial as Christ had been and like Him unable to be condemned (they had committed no crime, either). And I don’t think Caiaphas recognises John anymore. As in the Gospel stories, John always gives his superior the first place:

“Before they had finished speaking to the crowd, they were interrupted by the chief priests, the temple superintendent, and the Sadducees. These, indignant at their teaching the multitude and proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, laid hands on them, and put them in prison (for it was already evening) until the next day. (Meanwhile, many of those who had listened to their preaching had joined the believers, so that their numbers had now risen to five thousand men.) On the next day, there was a gathering of the rulers and elders and scribes in Jerusalem; the high priest Annas was there, and Caiphas, and John, and Alexander, and all those who belonged to the high-priestly family. And they had Peter and John brought into their presence, and asked them, ‘By what power, in whose name, have such men as you done this?’ Then Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit, and said to them, ‘Rulers of the people, elders of Israel, listen to me. If it is over kindness done to a cripple, and the means by which he has been restored, that we are called in question, here is news for you and for the whole people of Israel. You crucified Jesus Christ, the Nazarene, and God raised Him from the dead; it is through His Name that this man stands before you restored…'”

Acts of the Apostles, 4: 1-10

The story goes on to say that the priests were surprised at the eloquence of these men who were obviously unlearned. That doesn’t necessarily mean they couldn’t read and write; merely that they had had not had the benefit of a high standard of education. These descriptions are so very vivid that I often feel that the Apostolic times were only very recent, while the times of Saint Bede the Venerable, some eight hundred years later, are more obscure.