Today’s Gospel tells one of four noteworthy stories involving Peter and John. Those two, with Peter originally known as Simon, had known each other from birth. With their fathers and with John’s brother James; and Simon’s brother Andrew, the four had worked as a team pulling in long seining nets on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee.
In an offseason the four young neighbors had gone south to help John the Baptist who was baptizing near Jericho. When the Baptist pointed out Jesus walking by, John and Andrew who were standing next to him, detached themselves and followed Jesus, spending the night with him under the stars.
In the morning Andrew fetched his brother Simon, telling him that he and John had rested that night with the Messiah. Jesus, then, seeing Simon coming, announced, “You are Simon, son of Jonah, but you will be called Peter.”
Now we skip to the final third of John’s Gospel for the first of four noteworthy stories involving Peter and John. At the Last Supper John was lying up against Jesus when Jesus announced that one of his disciples was betraying him. Peter, anxious to know who it was, instructed John to ask Jesus. The noteworthy thing there was that Peter could tell John what to do, while he lacked the intimacy with Jesus to find out on his own.
Later that evening John stayed close to Jesus at the court of the high priest, while Peter, not wanting to be caught, stayed on the edge of the crowd; going on to deny knowing Jesus.
The second of our noteworthy stories involving this pair came on the morning of the Resurrection in their race to the empty tomb. The text makes a point of describing John as running faster, but then waiting to let Peter go in first. This could be the Gospel’s way of saying first that John was more ardent than Peter in his desire to seek out the Lord, but that by letting Peter go in first he was saying we must defer to the chief apostle.
The third pairing of Peter and John came on the Sea of Tiberius. That morning it was only John who had the spiritual keenness to recognize the Lord on the shore, but he let Peter get ahead of him in meeting the Lord.
They are paired a final time on that same morning. Jesus took Peter aside, handing his Church over to him by three times commissioning him to “Feed my lambs.” Peter then, noticing John standing close, asked Jesus what role John would play.
I think these four stories outline what John’s role was. Together with Peter he symbolizes a dual line of nobility in the Church. There are those we must honor as our leaders, and there are those we must honor as our living saints.