The elder, To the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in the truthand not I only, but also all who know the truth– because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever:–2 John 1:1-2
Alyson enjoys teasing me about the way I answer my cell phone. According to her, when it rings, I pick it up and open it immediately, thus answering it. This much I agree with, but she suggests that I stare at the screen for thirty or forty seconds before speaking to the caller. The exchange then goes something like this: Vibrate! Take phone from pocket. Open it. Wait, wait, wait, wait. Stare. Wait. Put phone to ear. “Hello!” I do believe that she exaggerates.
What really happens is this. When the phone rings, I glance at the illuminated, postage-stamp-sized screen on the outside. In letters that a ladybug would struggle to read, it tells me who is calling. My eyes, which do not focus up close quite as quickly as they formerly did, discern a handful of dark globs. Is it Mom or Home? Alyson or Emily? Do I recognize that number? When I open the phone, I can actually read the display of the business-card-sized inside screen and know who is calling. My pause is perhaps a second.
Why do I need to know who is calling? I suppose I don’t. I’ve already opened the phone, so it’s not like I’m going to hang up on a caller. There aren’t some people I’m immediately rude to. Rarely do I begin whispering sweet nothings to Penny without being sure it is her on the line. I suppose this is just a little idiosyncracy of mine. But don’t you like to know who is calling.
The first word in this epistle provides a bit of caller ID. “The elder,” our English versions render it. The Greek word “presbyteros” (or elder) provides the name for the Presbyterian Church. Who wrote this letter? Traditionally it has borne the name of John, but nowhere in its text is the Apostle John (or any other John) claimed as the author. It’s just “the elder.” Apparently that said something significant to its original recipients.
Sometimes on my phone, I’ll notice a number I recognize as belonging to my church. But who at the church is calling? Is it Alyson, who works there? Perhaps it’s one of my younger kids calling for a ride or the youth minister asking me to do something. But what if it is “The Elder.” In this case, it would be the pastor. Although I’m overawed by my pastor, I do respect him sufficiently that I’d always take his call. I might tell Alyson, “the daughter,” that I’ll call her back, but “the pastor” will get my attention now if possible.
It’s not just anyone, not just any pastor, who earns the respect inherent in simply referring to himself as “The Elder.” John–or whoever wrote this letter–must have been such a person. I’d like to be such a person. I’d like to have the sort of reputation that makes people perk up when I begin to speak. Perhaps as we proceed through this letter, we can learn some things about establishing that sort of credibility.