John 13-17

It is still before the Passover, but Jesus knows that his hour has come. He rises from the table where he has been eating supper with his disciples, takes off his robe, and washes his disciples' feet. Simon Peter objects to the idea of Jesus waiting on him like a servant, but relents when Jesus says it is necessary. Then Jesus says to his disciples that if he, who they rightly call "Teacher and Lord," washes their feet, then they "ought to wash one another's feet." Jesus seems to be warning them against pride, for he teaches that "a servant is not greater than his master." They need to remember that he is the master, and they are his servants.

Then Jesus quotes Psalm 41:9 to explain why one of his own disciples will turn against him. He tells "the disciple he loved" that he will identify his betrayer, and then dips a piece of bread in the dish and hands it to Judas Iscariot. The author of the gospel relates that, "As soon as Judas had received it Satan entered him." Jesus then says to Judas, "Do quickly what you have to do." Now he speaks of the glorification of the Son of Man, and he gives them "a new commandment" to "love one another" in the way that he has loved them. When he says he is going away and that the disciples cannot follow him, Peter protests that he "will lay down his life" for Jesus. But Jesus tells Peter that, before the cock crows, he will have denied him three times.

The next three chapters of the gospel of John contain some of the most memorable language of the gospels. Jesus tells his disciples to trust God and to trust him. He explains he is going to his Father's house, where he will prepare a place for them. Thomas asks how they will know the way, and Jesus responds, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except by me." Philip asks that he show them the Father, and Jesus answers, "Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father in me." The proof, Jesus says, is the deeds he has done.

"Anything you ask in my name," Jesus tells his disciples, "I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son." And if they love him and obey his commands, he promises to ask the Father to send them "the Spirit of truth" that will be with them forever. Jesus says "in a little while" the world will no longer see him, but his disciples will see him. Because he lives, they also will live. "When that day comes you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me and I in you."

Now the other disciple named Judas asks why Jesus is disclosing himself to them but not to the world. Jesus replies that anyone who loves him will respond to his teachings, and then "my father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him." Then he says, "Peace is my parting gift to you, my own peace, such as the world cannot give." And he tells them, "Set your troubled hearts at rest." Although "the prince of this world approaches," they are not to fear, because Jesus is doing all that the Father has commanded.

Now the Jesus of the gospel of John tells his disciples that he is the "the true vine" and compares them to the branches. "Anyone who dwells in me, as I dwell in him, bears much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." Branches that have withered, he warns, will be "gathered up, thrown on the fire, and burnt." Jesus tells them once again, "Love one another, as I have loved you." He explains that dying for the sake of friends is the greatest act of love, and he now calls them friends rather than servants because he has disclosed to them all that the Father has revealed to him. He warns them against the persecution they will face in the world, and says this is to fulfill the prophecies of Psalm 35:19 and Psalm 69:4. But Jesus promises to send the advocate from the Father who will bear witness to him, and he tells his disciples, "you also are my witnesses, because you have been with me from the first."

The author of the gospel of John now explains that Jesus foresaw the hard times that his community of believers is facing. "They will ban you from the synagogue," Jesus tells them. As the disciples have been with Jesus in the temple rather than in a synagogue, this statement is surely directed at the time after the temple is destroyed when Jewish authority shifts to the synagogue. It reflects the author's own experience and enlists Jesus in making sense of this rejection. In the gospel of John, Jesus says the Spirit of truth will guide them. This is the principle that is being used by the author's community to resist the legal restrictions that the Pharisees are trying to impose on all Jews.

The Jesus of the gospel of John assures his disciples that they will not be left alone for long, that the Spirit of truth will be their advocate in the trials they face, that everything they ask for in his name will be granted by the Father, and that Jesus will soon return and make all things clear to them. Suddenly, the disciples seem to understand, and they confess that they believe Jesus has come from God. Jesus concludes by warning them once more that they will be scattered and suffer, but that through faith in him they will find peace.

Looking to heaven, Jesus prays, "Father, the hour has come. Glorify your son, that the Son may glorify you." Jesus says to God, "For you have made him sovereign over all mankind to give eternal life to all whom you have given him." And what does eternal life mean? "To know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." Jesus says he has made the name of the Father known to those given to him, and then he prays for them but not "for the world." He also prays, "Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you have given me, that they may be one, as we are one." When Jesus excludes from his prayer the one who is lost, we realize that he is praying for his remaining disciples who will be the leaders of the church.

Jesus asks that the Father will "consecrate them by the truth" and affirms that "your word is truth." As the Father sent him into the world, Jesus says, "I have sent them into the world, and for their sake I consecrate myself, that they too may be consecrated to the truth." But the author of the gospel of John now makes clear that Jesus is not only praying for his disciples. "It is not for these alone that I pray," Jesus continues, "but for those also who through their words put their faith in me." This is just like Paul's witness. Confessing faith in Jesus is sufficient. Jesus, in the gospel of John, says that through the faith and love of those who trust in him the world will know that he has given them the glory given him by the "Righteous Father."

What is missing from the account of the gospel of John of the last evening Jesus spent with his disciples? There is nothing about breaking bread at the supper. Jesus in the gospel of John does not use the words that the church associates with the Lord's Supper. Instead Jesus washes the feet of his disciples and teaches them to be humble servants. Also in this account Jesus does not go into the garden of Gethsemane to pray with his disciples, nor does he experience anguish as he contemplates his coming death. Moreover, Peter, James and John do not go with him away from the other disciples to watch as he prays, and so we hear nothing about them falling asleep.

In fact, the gospel of John never even mentions James and John by name, although both disciples appear prominently in the gospel of Mark, Matthew and Luke. (John 21:2 does note that the "sons of Zebedee" are present at a resurrection appearance.) Instead, we hear in this last discussion of Jesus with his disciples, questions from Philip, Judas (not the son of Simon Iscariot), and Thomas. If we look back we will see that the gospels of Mark and Matthew have the same list of disciples, but the gospel of Luke names "Judas the son of James" rather than Thaddaeus. (Mk. 3:16-19, Mt. 10:2-4, Lk. 6:14-16) The gospel of John does not give a list of the twelve disciples, but it does follow the gospel of Luke in naming "the other Judas" as a disciple. It even gives him a speaking part in the concluding dialogue of the drama.

The difference in these accounts is also evident in the language that Jesus uses. He speaks of being glorified, of the Spirit of truth, who will be the advocate of the disciples, and of being one with the Father. This language is unique to the gospel of John. Moreover, in his prayer before he is arrested he uses language that sounds like worship in the church. He refers to "Jesus Christ," "Holy Father," of being "consecrated," and "Righteous Father." In the gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke, Jesus never speaks like this. It seems highly unlikely, therefore, that these passages in the gospel of John are the actual words of Jesus of Nazareth. These words represent the faith and worship of the Christian community of the author of the fourth gospel.

Nonetheless, these chapters are among the most inspiring in the New Testament. "Set your troubled hearts at rest," Jesus says. "Trust in God always; trust also in me." These are words that inspire faith and dedication. "I will not leave you bereft; I am coming back to you. In a little while the world will see me no longer, but you will see me; because I live, you too will live." The Jesus of the fourth gospel gives us assurance and comfort. "Peace is my parting gift to you, my own peace, such as the world cannot give.” 

Christians over the centures have found hope in these passages. "If you dwell in me,” Jesus says in this gospel, "and my words dwell in you, ask whatever you want, and you shall have it.” Words of encouragement expressed by Jesus in the fourth gospel for his disciples, have been a source of motivation and comfort for millions of Christians. "I have spoken thus to you,” Jesus says in this gospel, "so that my joy may be in you, and your joy complete.” And many have known this joy. © Robert Traer 2016