Meditation on John 13, selected verses
Maundy Thursday 2019
The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’
Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.
…Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.’
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. One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, ‘Lord, who is it?’
Jesus answered, ‘It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, ‘Do quickly what you are going to do.’
Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, ‘Buy what we need for the festival’; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, Judas immediately went out. And it was night.
When Judas had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.
Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
I have been spending more time out in my yard and neighborhood, now that spring has finally arrived! It has arrived, right? No more snow, right? Moving to Coshocton in January, I have anxiously awaited the departure of snow and cold and looked forward to discovering what kinds of trees, shrubs and flowers are growing around our Ohio home.
Now, the forsythia is covered with the unmistakable yellow flowers and leaves. Delicate bunches of white flowers are opening on our dogwood. Purple blossoms are beginning to show up on our lilacs.
But what about the other trees and shrubs? The ones with leaves just barely unfolding and many branches still bare; it’s hard to tell what they are! I have looked at Ohio tree identification websites, and concluded that I won’t know what we have, for sure, until they produce their leaves and flowers and/or seeds and fruit.
It’s this way with Christ’s followers. We are identified by the spiritual fruits we bear—the words and actions of a faithful life. Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:16-18, “By their fruit you will recognize them. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.”
Here, in John 13, we hear the promise that Christians will be known to the world, but by only one way will we be identified as belonging to Christ. “I give you a new commandment,” he says, “that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
Our witness to a hurting world depends on one thing. Love.
Love your neighbor as yourself is NOT a new commandment for the disciples; this is from Leviticus 19:17-18. What’s new in this commandment is that Christ’s disciples will be known by their love for their sisters and brothers in the faith.
With this new commandment, you might think that the disciples always get along with each other and are never jealous or competitive. If you believe this about the first disciples, let me remind you of Mark 10:35-45 and Matthew 20:20-21. The mother of James and John, sons of Zebedee, comes to ask Jesus a favor, she says. “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” She wants them to have special status and authority over the others. Jesus replies, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” meaning, are they prepared to suffer and die with him? For Jesus will pray in the Garden of Gethsemane in Luke 22:42, on the night that he is betrayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”
James and John foolishly answer the Lord, “We are able.” Jesus says, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
The other 10 disciples will be angry with James and John when they find out, as you can imagine they would be. All of them want to have favored status and think they deserve it! But Jesus will set them straight, calling them together for a teaching moment, a spiritual lesson. 25 “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them,” he says, “and their great ones are tyrants over them. 26 It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Jesus doesn’t offer the new commandment until Judas has gone out. For Jesus already knows that he is not one of them. The Lord knows every thought and plan of human beings, says Psalm 94:11. The Lord searches the heart and knows the intention of every thought, says Jeremiah 17:10. And the fruits that Judas will bear—betraying the Lord for 30 pieces of silver—confirm that he is not Christ’s disciple.
This new commandment is difficult for the original disciples—and it’s still difficult for the Church today, isn’t it? We are divided into so many denominations and congregations around the world, they can hardly be counted. Almost every day, we hear of conflicts in churches and denominations, with people leaving in anger to form new congregations and denominations because they can’t get along.
The kind of love we are called to have for one another isn’t a conditional love this world knows. It is the sacrificial, unconditional love that the Lord has for us and revealed to us on the cross. If we seek to deepen our relationship with Him—know him more and more, and the power of His resurrection, we will grow in love. We will become conformed to his likeness, says Paul in Philippians 3:10. And we will be known by His love that doesn’t hesitate to suffer for another.
“13 No one has greater love than this,” Jesus will say in John 15:13, “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Let us pray.
We want to know you, God, more and more, and become like your Son, who gave himself for our sakes, so that we might be reconciled with you. Thank you, Heavenly Father, for your love shown through Christ’s suffering on a cross. We praise you for sending Jesus to be our Savior, Teacher and Friend, who not only commands us to love and provides the perfect example; he enables us to love by the power of His Spirit that lives in our hearts. Forgive us, Lord, when we have chosen not to obey your new command, when we have failed to love and have been stubborn and prideful, rather than choosing to show mercy–and forgive. Strengthen us to resist the negative attitudes and influences of this world that can slip into the church, sow seeds of discontent and divide us. Help us so that we may have a strong witness to our communities, becoming known as Christ’s disciples by our love for one another. In His name we pray. Amen.