Friday

22 August 2014

“Jesus was troubled in spirit and declared, ‘Very truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.’” (v. 21)


Background

Steadily, step by step, John's Gospel ratchets up the tension of the drama and takes us deeper into the person of Jesus and his struggle. No wonder that John's story of the passion of Jesus has been such a powerful expression of sorrow, courage and love. In Bach's setting of the St John Passion the chorus constantly reflect on the pathos and suffering love of Jesus and ask that he support and encourage Christians in their struggles.

At this point, John's Gospel paints a vivid scene of the friends of Jesus reclining on benches as they eat their meal close to the Passover festival. There will be items to buy for the feast, and traditional donations to make to the poor. None of them seem aware of his emotional turmoil. Although John pictures the cross as a victory rather than a tragedy, the Gospel makes it clear that Jesus suffered genuine anguish as he anticipated the conflict to come. Jesus' words are solemn and deliberate as he announces that someone in the group will betray him. He declares - the Greek word literally means 'testifies' and is the word from which we derive 'martyr' - that there is a traitor among them. Just as many of the Psalms speak of the agony of being betrayed by an intimate friend rather than a sworn enemy, so Jesus seems to speak out of deep sorrow rather than out of a desire for revenge.

Once again, and by now we shouldn't be surprised, the disciples are confused. There has been an enormous amount of speculation about the identity of 'the disciple whom Jesus loved' (verse 23). Although an early tradition identified him with John, the author of the Gospel, this is by no means certain and plenty of other candidates have been suggested, including Lazarus, and even Judas himself!

Jesus uses another symbolic gesture - passing a piece of bread to Judas (verse 26) - to underline the depth of his treachery. The passage ends with the terse phrase, "And it was night". John's Gospel is not just telling us that it is the end of the day, but that darkness is threatening the light. From now on the "true light, which enlightens every one" (John 1:9) is threatened by an encroaching darkness, yet never overcome.


To Ponder

  • What are the powerful emotions that come to you as you read this passage?
  • What experience have you had of being betrayed of let down by those close to you? How have you dealt with that?
  • How does this passage affect your understanding of Jesus?


Bible notes author: The Revd Dr Richard Clutterbuck

 

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