First or third person?

In his Gospel, John describes himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” This past week I had a conversation with a young professor preparing a National Science Foundation CAREER proposal that gave me new insight into this statement.

We discussed several aspects of a successful proposal. The CAREER proposal is worth $500,000 and is quite prestigious so it’s kind of a big deal for new assistant professors. One issue we discussed was the use of first person (I will complete these tests) versus third person (He/she will complete these tests) for the proposal. I suggested third person as the best choice since that is the point of view for the panel who will be evaluating the proposals.

What I was really thinking about during this discussion, however, was John and the similar dilemma in writing his Gospel. I imagine that John also had to decide between first and third person. Perhaps it was the tradition of the day to use third person, so John now had to decide how to refer to himself. Should he use “he”? Maybe this made him consider his identity and he asked the question “Who am I in this story of Jesus?” Like us, he was clearly not the central figure. That spot belonged (and still belongs) to Jesus. Perhaps when John was thinking carefully about his time with Jesus and all that Jesus did and taught, his central thought was the love and compassion and mercy that he saw Jesus exemplify time and again. Then it occurred to him. His identify was “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”

This is not an exclusionary statement; John knew perfectly well that Jesus also loved the other disciples. Rather, it is the perfect expression of our identify in Jesus. You are the one that Jesus loves. I am the one that Jesus loves. Embrace “the John identity.” It is yours through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

About Tony Schmitz

Tony Schmitz received his BS in Mechanical Engineering from Temple University in 1993, his MS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Florida in 1996, and his PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Florida in 1999. He is a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
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