Hello, and welcome to the STC podcast. My name is Casey Strine, I’m a member of the STC staff, and I’m excited to be sharing a few of my reflections on the Gospel of John with you this week.
This week we will be looking at materials from chapters 12, 13, and 14 of the Gospel according to John.
This section of the Gospel of John include Jesus’ final public conversation and some of the last conversations he has with his closest disciples. These passages are filled with the ideas Jesus wants to ensure his closest followers understand before his death because they are the concepts on which God will build a movement of people following Jesus and seeking to complete his mission.
With the beginning of chapter 13, the Gospel of John has taken us literally inside Jesus’ inner circle of disciples. Yesterday, we saw Jesus’ first act with this group: he washes their feet, showing them that no one is too important to serve those around them. Today, we see Jesus expand on what this call to serve others means.
I should comment on the first part of our text, in which Jesus identifies Judas Iscariot as the one who will betray him and sends him off to do so. This is a difficult passage to understand, and an even harder one to try to explain to others! All we can say with certainty is that Jesus knew that Judas Iscariot was ready and willing to give away his location to those who wanted to arrest him and that Jesus was not the least bit afraid of him doing so. In the larger story, Judas’ dismissal is a short intermission within a larger narrative of what Jesus wants to say to his closest followers before he goes. And so, to that, we shall turn.
With Judas gone, Jesus reminds his disciples that he will only be with them a short time – something they seem to need to be told repeatedly. This time he also stresses that they cannot come where he is going. Their separation will be complete – no peering round the corner for just a peek of Jesus and some advice. All this builds up to Jesus saying he is leaving a new command for these disciples: ‘as I have loved you, so you must love one another.’
Before thinking about the content of the command, let’s reflect on why Jesus makes it a command. Recall that this conversation unfolds at Passover. In Judaism, Passover is the beginning of a two-part celebration that remembers the exodus from Egypt (Passover) and the giving of the Ten Commandments and the rest of God’s instructions to Israel (what we know as Pentecost). This is a time of year when a Jewish person would be thinking carefully about God’s commands and what they require. Jesus’ choice to refer to this as a new command, therefore, is not accidental.
This new command also makes clear reference to commands that would have been very familiar to its audience. These disciples, all from Jewish families, would have known well the command to love the stranger as yourself, which appears over 30 times in their Scriptures. They would have also known the command Jesus calls the greatest commandment: to love your neighbour as yourself, which is found in Leviticus 19:18. Jesus alludes to both of those here, but changes the requirement in a small, but important, way. No longer are people called to love others as they love themselves, but rather in the self-sacrificial way that Jesus has loved them. Knowing that Jesus is very soon to be beaten and crucified on their behalf, this is a call to self-sacrificial love that goes to the limits of what any of us can imagine. Indeed, when Peter does imagine doing so, Jesus explains that in denying him later that same night he will prove just how difficult it is to fulfil.
What does all of this mean for us? On one hand, there is no doubt that we are called to love others in a self-sacrificial way. That comes through loud and clear. If it is the case that doing causes us to give up something substantial, we should not be surprised. On the other hand, Jesus’ response to Peter suggests that this is a case of God calling us to do something that can only be done in God’s power. As we seek to serve others in this way, then, it must be done prayerfully, with the trust that God can and will make us capable of something that justifiably feels beyond our own capacity.
Lord God, grant us the faith necessary to see you work powerfully in us, especially in those times when we feel called to do something beyond our power. We trust that you are the God who works through our weaknesses, not our strengths, to build your kingdom. Amen.
READING: John 13:18-38
‘I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfil this passage of Scripture: “He who shared my bread has turned against me.”
‘I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am. Very truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.’
After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, ‘Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.’
His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, ‘Ask him which one he means.’
Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, ‘Lord, who is it?’
Jesus answered, ‘It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.
So Jesus told him, ‘What you are about to do, do quickly.’ But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.
When he was gone, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.
‘My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: where I am going, you cannot come.
‘A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’
Simon Peter asked him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’
Jesus replied, ‘Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.’
Peter asked, ‘Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’
Then Jesus answered, ‘Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the cock crows, you will disown me three times!