31 March 2010

John 13:21-32

"So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night." (v.30)


Although this passage is the inspiration for Leonardo da Vinci's painting of the Last Supper, it is likely that Jesus and his disciples were not sitting along one side of a high table, but were reclining, Roman style, on a three-sided triclinium. The disciple whom Jesus loved - normally understood to be John, around whose recollections the Gospel of John may have been written - was therefore probably not leaning his head on Jesus, but was just reclining next to him.

The mention of the beloved disciple reclining next to Jesus here may not be significant, but there may be an intentional contrast being drawn between the disciple whose identity is only expressed in terms of being loved by Jesus, and the disciple who betrayed that love with a kiss. Although Judas is identified in the text for the benefit of the readers, he is not named by Jesus, except as the "one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish". Judas, like John, is defined only by his response to Christ's love.

In ancient societies to eat with someone was to make a bond, and to eat together involved dipping bread into a common dish containing meat or sauce of some kind. To betray someone with whom you had shared a dish, therefore, was a contradiction in terms. It was a work of darkness, of evil, defining you as being in Hebrew terms, ha-Satan - an adversary of God. It is no surprise then that in a Gospel full of the language of light and dark, we are told that after receiving the piece of bread Judas went out into the night. It was not just that the spirit of opposing God had entered Judas, but that Judas had entered the realm of the darkness that ends in destruction (Acts 1:18-20). The Gospel writer also wants us to know, however, that Jesus was not naïve about opposition to what is good and of God. Though the others misunderstood what he meant Jesus told Judas to go and get on with it.

To Ponder

How do you feel about Judas? What do you think motivated him? Can you identify with him in any way? Was he fulfilling the purposes of God?

In the Gospels, the name of Satan is used sparingly and at extreme moments (the temptations of Jesus; Peter's suggestion that Jesus need not suffer; Judas' betrayal). What are the benefits and the dangers of using this language?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Jane Leach

Jane writes on ministry, pastoral supervision and pilgrimage..