The last seven chapters of John’s Gospel repeatedly contrast the role of St. Peter with the role of the beloved disciple John.
At the last supper, Peter, wanting to know whom Jesus foresaw to be his betrayer, but not able to directly question Jesus about it, slipped into his role as John’s superior, ordering him to find out who the betrayer would be. Then, John, as the disciple closest to Jesus, used that intimacy to put the question to Jesus.
We see them contrasted again on Easter morning when Magdalene told them about the empty tomb. Peter and John set out, running to the tomb, and the Gospel dramatized John’s closer tie with Jesus by describing him as running faster. However, the Gospel demonstrated Peter’s higher position, by having John defer to him, waiting to let Peter be the one to first enter the tomb.
On a day sometime after the Resurrection when Jesus had seemingly left them, the Apostles were fishing when they saw a man standing on the shore. John’s intimacy with Jesus had him recognizing him, however, he informed Peter, who waded ashore to be the one greeting Jesus.
Finally, in today’s Gospel Jesus affirmed Peter’s leadership role, but he went on to tell him there was also something special about John that Peter was not to question into.
One day a dozen or more years ago the priests of Florida were all gathered in the auditorium of the seminary at Boynton Beach to listen to Father Raymond Brown, the world’s leading scholar on John’s Gospel.
Father Brown took up the matter of the contrast between Peter and John in the final chapters of John’s Gospel. He said the contrasting roles of the two Apostles demonstrated the disagreements that arose between communities that followed either Peter or John.
I had the temerity to raise my hand, getting the great scholar to give me the floor for a moment. I said, “Father, I don’t think these texts exhibited difference between the followers of Peter and John. I think they show us that the church has two types of nobility. They show us that we must give respect both to those in authority, and to saintly people who seem closer to God.”
Father Brown said, “Well, if you want that pacific view, you are welcomed to it.”