John 21:23, 19
This saying therefore went abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die. And Jesus did not say: He should not die. V. But: So I will have him to remain until I come: follow thou Me.
Verse 23. This saying, therefore: that is, a report went about among the disciples, the John was not to die. But S. John himself, as S. Aug. and S. Chrys. observe, took care to tell us, that Christ said not so. Nor do we find any sufficient grounds to think that S. John is not dead. Wi.
19. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me. 20. Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee? 21. Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? 22. Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me. 23. Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?
AUGUSTINE. (Tract. cxxiv) Our Lord having foretold to Peter by what death he should glorify God, bids him follow Him. And when He had spoken this, He saith unto him, Follow Me. Why does He say, Follow Me, to Peter, and not to the others who were present, who as disciples were following their Master? Or if we understand it of his martyrdom, was Peter the only one who died for the Christian truth? Was not James put to death by Herod? Some one will say that James was not crucified, and that this was fitly addressed to Peter, because he not only died, but suffered the death of the cross, as Christ did.
THEOPHYLACT. Peter hearing that he was to suffer death for Christ, asks whether John was to die: Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on His breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth Thee? Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do?
AUGUSTINE. (Tract. cxxiv) He calls himself the disciple whom Jesus loved, because Jesus had a greater and more familiar love for him, than for the rest; so that He made him lie on His breast at supper. In this way John the more commends the divine excellency of that Gospel which he preached. Some think, and they no contemptible commentators upon Scripture, that the reason why John was loved more than the rest, was, because he had lived in perfect chastity from his youth up. Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?
THEOPHYLACT. i. e. Shall he not die?
AUGUSTINE. (Tract. cxxiv) Jesus saith unto him, What is that to thee? and He then repeats, Follow thou Me, as if John would not follow Him, because he wished to remain till He came; Then went this saying abroad among the disciples, that that disciple should not die. Was it not a natural inference of the disciple’s? But John himself does away with such a notion: Yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? But if any so will, let him contradict, and say that what John says is true, viz. that our Lord did not say that that disciple should not die, but that nevertheless this was signified by using such words as John records.
THEOPHYLACT. Or let him say, Christ did not deny that John was to die, for whatever is born dies; but said, I will that he tarry till I come, i. e. to live to the end of the world, and then he shall suffer martyrdom for Me. And therefore they confess that he still lives, but will be killed by Antichrist, and will preach Christ’s name with Elias. But if his sepulchre be objected, then they say that he entered in alive, and went out of it afterwards.
AUGUSTINE. (Tract. cxxiv.) Or perhaps he will allow that John still lies in his sepulchre at Ephesus, but asleep, not dead; and will give us a proof, that the soil over his grave is moist and watery, owing to his respiration. But why should our Lord grant it as a great privilege to the disciple whom He loved, that he should sleep this long time in the body, when he released Peter front the burden of the flesh by a glorious martyrdom, and gave him what Paul had longed for, when he said, I have a desire to depart and be with Christ? If there really takes place at John’s grave that which report says, it is either done to commend his precious death, since that had not martyrdom to commend it, or for some other cause not known to us. Yet the question remains, Why did our Lord say of one who was about to die, I will that he tarry till I come? It may be asked too why our Lord loved John the most, when Peter loved our Lord the most? I might easily reply, that the one who loved Christ the more, was the better man, and the one whom Christ loved the more, the more blessed; only this would not be a defence of our Lord’s justice. This important question then I will endeavour to answer. The Church acknowledges two modes of life, as divinely revealed, that by faith, and that by sight. The one is represented by the Apostle Peter, in respect of the primacy of his Apostleship; the other by John: wherefore to the one it is said, Follow Me, i. e. imitate Me in enduring temporal sufferings; of the other it is said, I will that he tarry till I come: as if to say, Do thou follow Me, by the endurance of temporal sufferings, let him remain till I come to give everlasting bliss; or to open out the meaning more, Let action be perfected by following the example of My Passion, but let contemplation wait inchoate till at My coming it be completed: wait, not simply remain, continue, but wait for its completion at Christ’s coming. Now in this life of action it is true, the more we love Christ, the more we are freed from sin; but He does not love us as we are, He frees us from sin, that we may not always remain as we are, but He loves us heretofore rather, because hereafter we shall not have that which displeases Him, and which He frees us from. So then let Peter love Him, that we may be freed from this mortality; let John be loved by Him, that we may be preserved in that immortality. John loved less than Peter, because, as he represented that life in which we are much more loved, our Lord said, I will that he remain (i. e. wait) till I come; seeing that that greater love we have not yet, but wait till we have it at His coming. And this intermediate state is represented by Peter who loves, but is loved less, for Christ loves us in our misery less than in our blessedness: and we again love the contemplation of truth such as it will be then, less in our present state, because as yet we neither know nor have it. But let none separate those illustrious Apostles; that which Peter represented, and that which John represented, both were sometime to be.
GLOSS. I will that he tarry, i. e. I will not that he suffer martyrdom, but wait for the quiet dissolution of the flesh, when I shall come and receive him into eternal blessedness.
THEOPHYLACT. When our Lord says to Peter, Follow Me, He confers upon him the superintendence over all the faithful, and at the same time bids him imitate Him in every thing, word and work. He shews too His affection for Peter; for those who are most dear to us, we bid follow us.
CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. lxxxviii. 2) But if it be asked, How then did James assume the see of Jerusalem? I answer, that our Lord enthroned Peter, not as Bishop of this see, but as Doctor of the whole world: Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following, which also leaned on his breast at supper. It is not without meaning that that circumstance of leaning on His breast is mentioned, but to shew what confidence Peter had after his denial. For he who at the supper dared not ask himself, but gave his question to John to put, has the superintendence over his brethren committed to him, and whereas before he gave a question which concerned himself to another to put, he now asks questions himself of his Master concerning others. Our Lord then having foretold such great things of him, and committed the world to him, and prophesied his martyrdom, and made known his greater love, Peter wishing to have John admitted to a share of this calling, says, And what shall this man do? as if to say, Will he not go the same way with us? For Peter had great love for John, as appears from the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles, which give many proofs of their close friendship. So Peter does John the same turn, that John had done him; thinking that he wanted to ask about himself, but was afraid, he puts the question for him. However, inasmuch as they were now going to have the care of the world committed to them, and could not remain together without injury to their charge, our Lord says, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? as if to say, Attend to the work committed to thee, and do it: if I will that he abide here, what is that to thee?
THEOPHYLACT. Some have understood, Till I come, to mean, Till I come to punish the Jews who have crucified Me, and strike them with the Roman rod. For they say that this Apostle lived up to the time of Vespasian, who took Jerusalem, and dwelt near when it was taken. Or, Till I come, i. e. till I give him the commission to preach, for to you I commit now the pontificate of the world: and in this follow Me, but let him remain till I come and call him, as I do thee now.
CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. lxxxviii) The Evangelist then corrects the opinion taken up by the disciples.