Good morning! Jesus prepares the disciples for his death in today’s passage (John 13-14). He gives them the symbol of foot-washing, the commandment to love, and the promise of the Holy Spirit once he is gone. When Jesus’s forthcoming crucifixion and burial are mentioned beginning in chapter 13, notice that John doesn’t make reference to death, but only to departure. This is but one of many characterizations of Jesus’ actions in these final chapters that show him utterly in control, never a victim of circumstances but always a master consenting to the turn of affairs because they serve his purposes.
The first part of John 13 consists of Jesus at supper with the disciples before Passover. But whereas the other gospels describe the institution of communion in this place, John replaces that sacrament with another ritual: washing the feet of the disciples. (Can Christians imagine what it would be like if foot-washing instead of communion had taken hold as a lasting symbol of Christian fellowship?) Jesus shows great deliberation here, demonstrate service in a form of the most powerful serving those less powerful. Loyal, self-giving service is the coin of the realm in the fellowship of Jesus, and he sets the example himself.
The rest of John 13 reveals flaws among those closest to Jesus. They bracket and further illustrate Jesus’ command to love as he loves. Before the prediction of betrayal leads to Judas’ hasty exit, Jesus seems much more aware and involved in his own betrayal than he does in any other gospels. Satan doesn’t enter Judas until Jesus hands him the bread that announces him as the betrayer. Jesus nearly forces Judas to go ahead and turn him in to the Jewish authorities—it’s possible that otherwise Judas would have reconsidered. This shows Jesus very much in the know and in control. Peter’s denial is foretold as well, just like Judas’s betrayal. Between those interactions, Jesus gives a “new commandment, that you love one another”. “Mandatum” means “commandment”, and is the Latin word from which Christians get the old word “Maundy”. This is why the Thursday of Holy Week, the night when this story is told, sometimes goes by the name “Maundy Thursday”.
In John 14, Jesus continues speaking to his distraught followers who have heard words of betrayal and desertion. He tells them that he’s going away, and their panicked question is, “Where? How can we find you, follow you??” Jesus replies that where he goes is not a destination but an identity: “I am the way, the truth, and the life”. This is, of course, one of the great “I AM” statements, further identifying Jesus with the divine name. In some circles this verse is treated as proof that Jesus is the only way to heaven. But in context it reads more to me like reassurance for the disciples that he goes to be with “the Father”, and will remain as close as God to them. Furthermore, Jesus tells them to “find him” also in the works of righteousness and mercy that he has done, works that he enlists them to do also. To that end, Jesus promises them the Holy Spirit or Advocate (“Paraclete” in Greek). The Spirit is close at hand to those who know Jesus (which means, who follow the commandments of Jesus). This is strong “proof is in the pudding” theology—loving Jesus is visible only when the disciples do what Jesus himself would say and do. The promises of Jesus as he prepares to depart include peace, a path, and the Paraclete along the way. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is John 15-17. Thanks for reading!