Translation and commentary on John’s Gospel
JOHN 13: 18
“I’m not talking about all of you; I know the ones I’ve chosen. But ‘the one who eats my food is ready to kick me,’ so that Scripture may be fulfilled. I tell you this now before it happens, so that when it happens you may know that I AM. Amen, amen I tell you that whoever receives the one I send, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives the one who sent me.
After saying these words, Jesus was agitated in his spirit, and solemnly declared, “Amen, Amen, I tell you, one of you will hand me over.” The disciples looked at one another, at a loss to know of which one of them he spoke. One of the disciples, the one whom Jesus loved, was at table leaning on Jesus’ chest, so Simon Peter gave him a nod to ask Jesus who he was talking about. He leant back against Jesus and said to him, “Master, who is it?”
Jesus answered, “It’s the one for whom I dip this morsel of bread, and give it to him. So he dipped the morsel and gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after the morsel The Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Get on with what you’re doing.” No one at the table knew why he said this to him, but some thought that because Judas kept the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival,” or to give something to the destitute. So, once he had received the morsel of bread, he went out immediately; and it was night.
When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Humane Ruler is honoured and God is honoured in him. And if God is honoured in him, God will give him honour in himself and will give it to him immediately. Dear children, I am with you for a little while longer. You will look for me, but what I said to the Judeans, now I also say to you, ‘You cannot come where I am going.’ I am giving you a new commandment: love one another. You are to love one another, just as I have loved you. By this fact everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you show love for one another.”
One of the author’s markers of the divine humanity of Jesus is his description that Jesus is troubled in his spirit. It is not simply his natural human anguish at betrayal but also a divine anguish at the refusal of love evident in Judas. The divine spirit in Jesus grieves over loss of Judas and the great struggle his actions will precipitate. But Judas is not the sole cause of that struggle, which has been planned by God as the Scripture bears witness. The quotation uses the instance of a farm animal kicking the farmer who feeds it. Most translations have Jesus commend the prophecy, “so that you may know that am he” meaning the Messiah/ Son of God. I have chosen to translate literally so that Jesus uses the designation of God, I AM, because I think that through the prophecy Jesus is claiming for himself the presence of God to all time. Jesus explains his identity with God by the concept of being sent: he is not claiming equality with the Father, but carrying out God’s mission, just as his disciples will carry out his mission after his resurrection. But the Father does not remain at arm’s length from his messenger-son, just as Jesus will not be absent from the missionaries he will send into the world.
The little drama at Jesus’ table exists to give a portrait of the “one whom Jesus loved” who seems to me to be representative of all true disciples, who are encouraged to be intimate with Jesus. The posture of leaning against Jesus at table is intended the right posture of a disciple in any place at any time. Discipleship is more than obedience; it is a trustful, mutual, affection, which is articulated in Jesus’ new commandment. Judas rejects this relationship, even as he receives a love-token, the morsel of bread from Jesus’ hand, but refuses its offer, thereby opening himself to the control of the Satan, that is, the Adversary of God. In the Gospels the Satan retains his Jewish status as God’s celestial enemy rather than the personification of Evil created by Christian theology. But the cosmic nature of the battle thus begun is seen in the comment, “And it was night.”
The moment when Jesus, the Humane Ruler receives honour from God has arrived, for his fate is now sealed by Judas’ betrayal. He will not be much longer in the world but will go through death to God, a journey which only he can pioneer.
Jesus’ commandment is in one sense a repetition of the command to love the neighbour as oneself, but it is new in the way it explains the meaning of the command as given in Leviticus: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself; I am the Lord.” Jesus enters into the “I am the Lord” and fills it with his own practice of love towards his disciples. The command therefore is no longer to Israel as such but to the remnant of Israel made up of Jesus’ disciples. It seems to be a narrowing of the command, but is in fact a vast expansion, seeing that through the disciples it will go out to all the world. Jesus honours God by his obedience in the face of death; God honours Jesus by giving him this suffering and death, in which he will be “lifted up” to death and God! The pathos of the love shared by Jesus and the Father is evident in this saying.
Of course, all human groups love the fellow members if the groups. Birds of a feather flock together. That’s why the qualification of the disciples’ love is essential: they are to love each other as Jesus has loved them, not as fellow members of a club, but as God’s dear children.