Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”
Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”
- John 21:20-22
“You will certainly carry out God’s purpose, however you act, but it makes a difference to you whether you serve like Judas or like John.”
- C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
I have read The Problem of Pain, but I got this quote from a book edited by Clyde S. Kilby, A Mind Awake. It organizes a variety of C. S. Lewis quotes by topic. Maybe I am dreaming this C. S. Lewis butchered quote, but I cannot find it anywhere. Maybe someone will tell me who said it (maybe not Lewis at all) and what they actually said, but the gist of the quote is “It is better to be sitting in a chair with your mind awake while praying than to be on your knees with your head bowed and hands folded, half asleep.” Ah, there is the challenge, but maybe the quote, butchered or not inspired the book title, A Mind Awake. You can sift through the quotes in the book while alert and looking for them instead of reading the books for the second and third times, but oh, how I love context. That is something you cannot get from a disjointed quote.
The Scripture was quoted because Jesus had just told Peter that he will be crucified, and Peter wants to pass that privilege onto John. Maybe not, but our human nature likes our version of “justice” and our idea of no pain. And rather than identify himself in his version of Jesus’ story, John calls himself the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” Strange since Jesus loved them all, but in this case, he adds that he, John, asked Jesus who would betray him. Thus, we have a direct connection between John and Judas at that crucial moment in history.
I have thought about my story and how, looking back on my life, so much of it was wasted as far as developing the craft of writing, practice in exposition, and even Bible study, preferring the casual reading instead. I kick myself until God nudges me enough for me to notice. All that “wasted” time put me in the right place at the right time. If I had quit work at 35 and gone to seminary, I might not be here, and this is where God wants me.
Thus, I can understand what C. S. Lewis is talking about when we carry out God’s purpose whatever we do, but can we go so far as to be one of the extremes? From Judas who betrayed Jesus, then wished he had never been born, killing himself? To the Apostle John who Jesus trusted in writing one of the four Gospels and also showed John the vision of the end times? Not your run-of-the-mill apostle.
And could I go out on a limb? John passed through a door. If that door was a door into heaven, that place outside time and space, could the Apostle John not see a vision, but the events as they happened? But, no. He only saw an image of those events, with fantastic imagery, so that we will constantly match the present-day events with those images. Why? To keep us in constant anticipation. If you really want to see Jesus’ return, you will wake each morning wondering, “Is today the day?”
I think C. S. Lewis picked the extremes among those of the twelve, because most of us are like Simon the Zealot. He was one of the twelve and the Apostle John does not attribute any quotations to him. Only in John are quotes from disciples attributed other than Peter talking in all four Gospels. And, unless he wrote the book of Hebrews, he did not author any of the New Testament. Yet, if Lewis had said “Simon the Zealot” what does that mean, since we know practically nothing of the man? Thus, Judas as betrayer and John as the disciple Jesus loved stand at the extreme ends of the scale. If you applied Plato’s philosophy of Ideals, Judas is the “Ideal” bad disciple and John is the “Ideal” good disciple.
Now, with that in mind, as we go on our individual journey of faith, we have probably been a “Judas” at times and a “John” at times. We might have been a Peter, the gregarious disciple that is really OUT THERE at times. And we might have been, at times, Simon the Zealot, who everyone knew was one of the Twelve, but always in the background, unnoticed.
But with Jesus in our hearts and our name in the Book of Life, we will be judged – judged for how we responded when God called us. And on Judgment Day when they play the tape, it will show our “John” moments.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.