There is so much significant spiritual teaching packed into Holy Week, especially into Thursday, that it is necessary to spread some of it out into the earlier part of the week so that we may be able to absorb it, and meditate upon it, and contemplate the meaning of all of the events for ourselves.
The 14th Century author of The Cloud of Unknowing wrote that the best way to learn to pray with Holy Scripture is to read a passage, reflect on it, and pray. (Op. sit. Ch. 35) I have been doing that with today’s Gospel for the past week or so. By looking a little way before and a little beyond the verses that are included in today’s Gospel reading we can wrap our minds around what those additional verses encompass. Then we can get a wider picture of the context of what is described in this Gospel reading and see more clearly what it means. Having done that; I have been praying with it, meditating on it, and living with it during the past week.
To begin with I went back into the previous Chapter of John’s Gospel to look at the background of the narrative which we have just heard. I also looked ahead just a few more verses beyond where today’s reading leaves off, for the story does not end there.
Today’s Gospel reading begins with the words, “Jesus was troubled in spirit.” What was troubling Jesus? Was it something that he knew about, but did not feel free to share with the Disciples just yet? Was it something that he had observed, or heard? Or was it something that he had just said? It might have been all of these things.
Ever since that day in the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in Bethany, when Mary had anointed Jesus’ feet with a pound of costly perfume, Judas’ very materialistic objections to that act must have been troubling to Jesus. We are told in the narrative of that event that Judas was a thief and stole money from the common purse. How long had that been going on? How well was it known? (Jn 12:1-8)
A few days later, during the feast days leading up to the Passover, Andrew and Philip brought some Greeks who wanted to see Jesus to meet him. At that time Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” That was followed by a remark about the necessity for a grain of wheat to fall into the earth in order to bear fruit. After that there was some dialogue between Jesus and God the Father about glorification which is paralleled with Jesus’ remarks at the end of today’s Gospel reading. (12:20-28) When Judas had gone out Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.” (13:31-32)
Just before the beginning of today’s reading Jesus told his disciples, “I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But it is to fulfill the scripture, ‘The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me’. (Ps. 41:9) I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am he.” (13:18-19) (Throughout most of Asia and in parts of the Eastern Mediterranean it is considered a grave insult purposely to point the bottom of one’s foot at another person.)
Today’s Gospel begins with the troubling words, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” (v.21) The Gospels of Matthew and Mark tell us that the disciples then began to ask Jesus, “Is it I?” According to Matthew, when Judas asked, Jesus answered, “You have said so.” (Mt. 26:19-25) (Mk. 14:19) In John’s Gospel, which has just been read, Peter motioned to the disciple whom Jesus loved to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. (Jn 13:23-25) Jesus answered saying, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Jesus then dipped the piece of bread and gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. (v. 26) We are told that when Judas received the piece of bread Satan entered into him. Jesus said to Judas, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” (v.27) The exchange of thoughts among the remaining disciples shows us that at that time they did not know what Jesus meant, or what was to follow in a few hours. After Judas received the piece of bread “he immediately went out.” (v.30) Here is perhaps the most poignant sentence in the Bible; “And it was night.” (repeat) Even though the Paschal moon was in the sky, as Judas passed from the light of the room and of Jesus and the company of the disciples he went into absolute darkness.
After Judas left, Jesus was immediately able to speak more freely with the remaining disciples. First were his words about being glorified. The meaning of that goes beyond ordinary human comprehension into Holy Mystery. It can only be apprehended by contemplation and prayerful reflection.
Then, in the words that follow right after the end of today’s reading, Jesus began to give the New Commandment of Love to the disciples and through them to us in the Church. “I give you a new commandment, that you also should love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another”. (v.34). More than horror at Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, it is this New Commandment to love one another that we should carry away with us today.
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