The form of a white-whiskered man hunched in the doorway. The stooped figure belonged to John, the fisherman who had once sailed the Sea of Galilee and walked the roads of Judea with Jesus of Nazareth, the man John still called “Master.”
But those days were long ago,thought the aged disciple, and I am an old man.
As he sat in the doorway of his home in Ephesus, a breeze from the harbor disturbed the papyrus sheet which was spread across his lap. John stared at the blank surface on his knees, as he had for many days now, not knowing where to start. There was so much. He had so many memories of the Lord, but when he tried to record them all, he froze with the scope of it all.
His mind flashed with the memory of the arguments he’d been having recently with the young disciple who shared his home.
“Did not Matthew,” John would argue, “did not Matthew and John Mark and Luke already record such things? What need is there of another Gospel?”
“But,” the young man said repeatedly, “you yourself have told me many things they did not record.”
And the old man would smile and say, with the perspective of a lifetime, “Yes, but Jesus did so many things. If they were all written, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books.”
“But,” the other would counter, with flaming eyes, “Matthew and the others were not confronted with the Gnostics as we have been! They did not deal with the lies these people are spreading.”
The Gnostics. John quieted when they were mentioned. He knew too well the harm they had done in the young church with their teachings. They were not there, he thought. If they had known him, if they had seen him, they would not imagine that Jesus was some ghostly presence inhabiting a human body. They can only deny the reality of his death with their mental gymnastics because they did not see it as I did. They weren’t there when his mangled body came off the cross. I was there. I saw!
He stood suddenly, dumping the papyrus from his lap onto the ground. His joints creaked with age and he winced from the pain. He thought of how it would have grieved Mary, whom John had cared for those last years of her life, to see her Son’s Gospel polluted by such teachings.
The young disciple was right, of course. Another Gospel must be written. The Gnostics must be answered.
He sat again and picked the sheet off the floor.
What do I write? he asked himself. How do I begin?
The aging friend of Jesus looked silently across the harbor waters to the coral sunset of the western sky. Half a century had passed since Jesus had turned John’s world—everyone’s world—upside down. Perhaps it had been too long.
“My memory isn’t what it used to be,” he said aloud. Suddenly, he was overwhelmed with the weariness of a lifetime and the blank surface of the page. He shook his head. “Perhaps if I were not so…so tired, and writing were not so hard. There will be others. Younger men. They will write.”
That scene, of course, is mostly out of my imagination. But what if John had not written? What if the aging apostle had left the writing to others? If John had not written, would the Gnostics have gained converts? If he had not written, would those who maintained the full truth of the Incarnation have been branded as heretics? If he had not written, would the true Church still be striving against a more powerful, accepted falsehood?
Of course, it’s impossible to say, just as it would be impossible to say what might have happened had Augustine never written, or Martin Luther, or John Calvin. Just as it’s impossible to say what will happen if you don’t write. It’s impossible to say what child, young person, or adult might be affected if people whom God has gifted and called to write do not.
Should I forebear just because I am old, or tired, or because writing is so hard, or because my first attempts were rejected, or because others seem to have a much greater gift, an enviable talent, a natural ability?
The disciple whom Jesus loved probably went through much of the same things. But he had a purpose, a calling, a clear objective when he put pen to paper.
I imagine him again on that Ephesian doorstep: “What do I write, Lord? He stared blankly into space. “What do I write?” he whispered, and in a moment his mind grasped an answer, unspoken, yet real: “I will give you the words. I will refute the enemies of the Church with my own wisdom, just as I refuted the Pharisees and the scribes.”
Suddenly, John was liberated. Freedom swept through his mind, and as he shook his whitened head, words spilled from his mind onto the page, and he found himself writing: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
John, the old man, laughed out loud, with tears in his eyes, knowing that it would be a struggle, but he would write. The Gnostics would be answered, a fourth Gospel would be circulated, and the truth would be preserved.
Father, I thank you that your messenger did write. I also thank you that your disciples still minister through the written word. I know that we are often feeble tools, and that our efforts seem faulty—to us. But I ask you to take our talents and our efforts and take, too, our desire to develop and our willingness to work, and make us more than just writers… Make us your instruments, Amen.
This article was the second place 1992 Article of the Year as selected by The Christian Communicator.