Yesterday I had the chance to teach Sabbath school and talk about the resurrection of Jesus Christ and its importance, and one of the things that struck me was what John most wanted to communicate. It is always interesting to see how children relate to such matters, but I was confident, and quite gratified to see, that the children understood and enjoyed the way that John opened up his account of the empty tomb. I want you to take a look at the following passage and see what is interesting about what John said in John 20:1-10: “Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first. And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed. For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. Then the disciples went away again to their own homes.”
It must be noted that this account is not very flattering to John himself, and the children of my class were clever enough to recognize what is most striking about what John has to say about it. For one, we see here John’s characteristic way of referring to himself as “the disciple, whom Jesus loved.” Such an account is by no means a subtle one, as the Gospels in general reveal the general awkwardness and lack of understanding of the disciples before they were given God’s Holy Spirit. And such is the case here. There are a few things that John appears to be intent on letting the audience know in his account, all the more so because it was after three previous accounts had been written, all of which focused on the fact that Mary Magdalene was the first person to see the empty tomb while it was still dark on Saturday night. And, it should be remembered, John too saw the empty tomb while it was still dark as well, which is at least a detail that is well worth pondering when it comes to looking at the chronology of Jesus’ death and resurrection, even if most of the other details appear to be most of interest to John himself.
Besides being loved, there is one detail that John appears to be most intent on having readers understand, and that is his superior speed at running to Peter. While no other Gospel records John’s own running to the tomb and Luke only records Peter as having gone to the tomb after the disciples themselves did not believe Mary Magdalene’s account of Jesus being missing from the tomb, John wanted to make it clear that he came to the tomb first even though he did not go in first, while Peter did. Indeed, John is so intent on communicating this that he mentions it twice. By reading these verses in the appropriate tone, I was glad to see that the young people I was reading it too were able to catch what was funny about it, seeing as they tend to brag about such things themselves, of being loved by people and of being faster than others and better at other competitive tasks.
What was most remarkable to me was that they were so clear-eyed in seeing this account of being silly and a bit discreditable to John but not in seeing how it reflected on their own accounts of their competitiveness. It is easy to see the ridiculousness and the vanity of others but not always easy to see our own. And there is a great deal of credit in John to admit his own vanity and ridiculousness. I do not think that it detracts from his account to comment on such matters, but quite the reverse. He is all the more to be taken as a reliable eyewitness account because he makes his own bias and his own interests obvious, and because he includes a great deal that makes him appear to be less than praiseworthy in the eyes of others. If even children can recognize that it is ridiculous that a man should repeatedly draw attention to the fact that he was proud for Jesus’ special fondness as well as his own skill in sprinting to garden tombs, we can gather that the original readers of the Gospels were no less entertained by John’s fondness for mentioning such matters repeatedly. To see the openly acknowledged humanity of a writer does not in any way decrease the inspiration of scripture. On the contrary, it is those works which are full of self-regard unrecognized and unacknowledged that suffer when subjected to a close reading.