John Bar Zebedee

“At supper he poured water into a basin and washed the disciples’ feet, and wiped them with a towel . . . . Then he was troubled and said, ‘One of you shall betray me’ . . . . Now there was one of the disciples, leaning on Jesus’ breast, whom Jesus loved. Peter beckoned him to ask who it might be. He then lying on Jesus’s breast said to him, ‘Lord, who is it?’ Jesus answered, ‘The one to whom I give a morsel when I have dipped it.’ And he gave the bread to Judas Iscariot” (from John 13: 5-26).

A voice that could be yours
Is hard to catch,
Fisherman that Jesus loved.
Old, you fell among philosophers
Who took your talk of love and God
And made it ring of logos–
Word of words, word made flesh.
Marks of you they also saved,
Traces from the Jesus years not kept by other scribes.
Maybe in a seaport town,
The smell of tar and rigging by,
Honored and murmuring among believers,
You kept on humming sailor tunes and telling
What you learned at suppers
With the arm of Jesus on your shoulder:
‘God is love, whoever loves knows God.
Behold what manner of love the father gave,
We are already children of God,
Though what we will be doesn’t yet appear.’

They couldn’t seem to get it, so you just kept telling them,
‘Herein is love, not that we loved God [no stanza]
But God loved us and sent his son,
So let us love each other’–
As in the many sonnets to his friend that Shakespeare penned,
Who finally said, ‘I only have one theme,’
This is your sounding tone, John bar Zebedee,
This cricket-harping on love:
‘I say this so your joy may be full,
We touched and handled the word of life,
If you love each other, abide in light,
And don’t forget now,
Love each other.’

Before the arrest
Jesus did the city woman’s part at supper,
Washing feet to be
What he felt for you he gave to all twelve,
What he did for you he did to the twelve, Judas included,
And said to pass it on.
In three days time it would start exploding
In bone-deep visions
Of a dead man raised,
A charism born.

You and brother James were fishermen–
Nicknamed Sons of Thunder.
Were you boldest in squalls on Lake Genesseret
When Matthew the tax man and Simon the Zealot
Lost their lunch,
And Peter panicked?
Did you stand to the mast and slacken sail,
Keep the wind astern and let the thunder roar,
Quiet Son of Thunder?
But the storms of Sanhedrin politics defied your seamanship.
When Jesus had been nailed up,
He asked you to take his mother in,
A son for a son.

The morning Mary Magdalene came from the tomb
You ran a race with Peter and won
But only saw empty serecloths.
The other dawn, though, when you’d failed
All night at fishing
And a figure stood on the beach by a breakfast fire And called a tip
To cast the net to starboard,
It was you who said, ‘It is the Lord.’ [no stanza] The net flung into motion,
Hundreds of fish flopped and thrashed,
Glinting back eastern light.
Somehow you and the others held the net,
Embraced the swirl,
Looked at each others’ foam-splashed eyes–
And brought the catch to shore.