12 April 2017

John 13:21-32

“After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, ‘Very truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.’ The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking.” (vv. 21-22)

Psalm: Psalm 70 


In today's passage, Jesus and his disciples were by themselves for what we call the 'last supper', in a private, rented room. They were hidden from the crowds who had followed Jesus since Lazarus' coming out of the tomb (John 11). They were also hiding from the temple authorities who now wanted to arrest Jesus. It was a vulnerable time and anyone could be forgiven for being "troubled in spirit".

And yet, sometimes popular thinking about Jesus does not include space for him to have normal human emotions like stress, fear, pleasure or anger. Jesus was troubled in spirit: despairing, disappointed, the energy taken out of him. Why should it be hard to acknowledge that Jesus had normal emotions? It may be that thinking about Jesus, the Son of God and one who is meant to embody the God of creation as anguished, is simply too frightening. If he is upset, what hope for the rest of humanity?

Clearly Jesus' mood caused anxiety among his disciples as well. After Jesus made his declaration, even Peter did not dare express their concern directly. He whispered to another who he thought would get a better hearing, "the one whom Jesus loved" (v. 23). This portrait of the group dynamics among the disciples should be instantly recognisable to anyone who has ever checked out with one friend what another was feeling or thinking before speaking to that one directly.

Here we read that the disciples as a normal, believable group of people. When their leader was upset, they walked on eggshells and started to second-guess one another. The very believability of the description of this group here shows the integrity of the Gospel writer. He did not try to make them look good, or strong, or worthy. Instead, he tried to show their real humanity in ways readers would recognise and identify with. This integrity should build confidence in the accounts that would follow of their joy at Jesus' resurrection: the Gospel writer has an established track record, what he wrote about this group can be trusted.

To Ponder

  • What do you think about Jesus having a bad day, or being discouraged?
  • Is betrayal by a friend worse than abuse by a stranger? Why?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Jennifer Smith

Revd Dr Jennifer Smith is a Methodist minister, and superintendent of the Ealing Trinity Circuit in the London District. Though resident in the UK since 1993, she is a US citizen and continues to observe US political and religious culture with interest.