translation and commentary on John’s Gospel
JOHN 18: 1
When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples over the Kidron watercourse, where there was an orchard, into which he entered with his disciples. Judas also knew the place, the man who betrayed him, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas, who had got himself a band of armed men, with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns, torches and arms.
At that, Jesus, who knew everything that was coming upon him, said to them, “Who are you looking for?”
They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.”
Jesus said to them, “I AM!”
Judas the man who betrayed him was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, I AM, they drew back and fell to the ground. So Jesus asked them again, “Who are you looking for?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.”
Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go., “
(This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken, “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”)
Then Simon Peter who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s slave and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchos.) But Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath! Shall I not drink the cup that the father has given me?”
The reader is jolted by the swift transition from the solemn discourse of Jesus to urgent action. The writer again shows his mastery of quick narrative as he moves towards the denouement: the arrest, trial and execution of Jesus.
The Kedron is described as a winter torrent, therefore a dry gulch in spring. The orchard or garden is not named Gethsemane, nor does Jesus pray there. Instead Judas leads armed men to a common meeting place of Jesus’ disciples. I read the Greek as designating only the “police” (huperetas) as coming from the religious authorities; the armed men may be his own contribution. Judas is twice labelled, the man who betrayed him, just in case we forget.
Jesus question is ambiguous and ironic: are they “looking for” someone they admire or someone they want to arrest? When they say they are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, he answers them, as I imagine the scene, with the name of God, I AM, and this name puts them momentarily on their knees. Jesus gives them a second chance by asking again, and when they again reply with his name, this time he says the words more gently, “I told you, that’s me.” (The Greek Ego eimi = I am is used for the Hebrew name of God and for everyday purposes.) Jesus’ request that his followers should be let go, seems unlikely in the light of Peter’s violence which follows. It does however give the disciples a cover for their cowardice, which is absent in the other Gospels.
The incident of Peter’s attack on the high priest’s slave is interesting. Firstly it is a murderous attack: you don’t aim at the ear deliberately, you are aiming at the head and missing. The story is a little puzzling in that Peter is not arrested along with Jesus. Why is the slave named? Why did Peter have a sword and where did he get it? Perhaps lurking in the background of this incident there is a tradition that the disciples of Jesus were not originally known as non-violent.
Jesus’ rebuke to Peter is not for the sake of non-violence, but solely for the sake of not deflecting Jesus from the command of the father. In all the Gospels Jesus’ imminent execution is pictured as a cup which he must drink, which must have been identified by their readers with the cup of their communion ceremony. The words are also an encouragement to believers faced with violent persecution, “Shall I not drink the cup my father has given me?”
We should notice that in no way is the cup of suffering imposed upon Jesus by the father. It is of course imposed by those who will not accept Jesus’ revelation of the father, who prefer lies to truth and darkness to light. But in Jesus’ faith it is also given, in love, by the father, so that the truth of the father’s love should be made known once and for all. If we ask why the revelation of the father’s love should meet with opposition and violence. the author of this gospel would tell us that’s the way the “world” is.
We should be careful not to read divine allusion every time Jesus said ego eimi. After all, ego eimi does simply mean, “I am” without the capitals; or, “it is I” or, “that’s me.” In modern Greek too: ego eimai.