First Thoughts on Year C Gospel Passages from the Lectionary

Easter 5

William Loader

Easter 5: 19 May John 13:31-35

The night had begun. Judas had gone off to lead the possie to arrest Jesus. John’s narrative symbolism, ‘it was night’ (13:30), might have darkened all that followed. Instead, it is Judas who enters the darkness. Jesus, by contrast, faces ‘the hour’ of which he had often spoken, first in response to his mother (2:4), but before that as the greater event to come when the angels would ascend and descend upon him as the Son of Man (1:50-51). Now that moment begins. The Son of Man will be lifted up on the cross, but to the eyes of faith, he will be lifted, exalted into God’s glory (12:32). The path through the darkness of what is to follow will lead to the divine presence. Without diminishing its pain John transforms the hour into an hour of celebration and victory (12:31-33).

John 13:31-32 is a typically Johannine statement in which the strands of meaning are interwoven into a dense cord. ‘Now is the Son of Man glorified’. Literally it reads: ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified.’ The ‘now’ refers to the complex of events which Judas’ departure has initiated. Similarly, as Jesus faces the prospect of suffering and death in Jerusalem, he declares in 12:23, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.’ So it is best to take the ‘now’ in 13:31 as also referring to the whole event which has arrived. ‘And God is glorified in him’ means that in this event God will be glorified because Jesus will be bringing his mission to completion. Later Jesus will pray: ‘Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you’ (17:2) and ‘I have glorified you on earth, having completed the work you gave me to do’ (17:4). On the cross he will declare: ‘It is finished’ (19:30).

13:32 continues the same interwoven thought: ‘If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him with himself and will glorify him immediately.’ There is a mutuality: the Son glorifies the Father. The Father glorifies the Son. Again, the prayer in John 17 sheds further light on what is being said: ‘And now, Father, glorify me with the glory I used to have with you before the world was’ (17:5). The Father glorifies the Son ‘with himself’, that is, with the glory which is the divine presence.

Simply put, the Son will seem to enter darkness, but this is the pathway through which God will bring the Son home and surround him with glory. That glory is nothing other than God’s own being. The somewhat convoluted statement in 13:31-32 is indicating that Jesus knows he has reached the end of the journey and will soon be rewarded with the divine presence. The reward is not things or places but the person of God. Oneness with God (not absorption) is the goal and the reward, as it has also been the characteristic of Jesus’ whole life. That is why John can also say that already in his life we saw God’s glory (1:14). This is also a model of spirituality: oneness in mission, oneness in presence, oneness in the end.

John 13:33 restates what Jesus had said to ‘the Jews’ in 7:34 (see also 8:21), except that when he restates it to the disciples there is a new element: hope. To ‘the Jews’ he said: ‘you will not find me’. That part is missing here, because they will find each other. In fact 13:33 almost becomes the preaching text for what follows. It dominates most of the rest of chapter 13, chapter 14 and again chapter 16. John uses it as a framework within which to develop his account of Jesus’ last words to his disciples. The first draft may not have gone beyond 14:31 which seems to have had 18:1 as its sequel. The riddle of 13:33 evokes questions: where are you going? why can’t we come? (Peter: why can’t I come? you will, replies Jesus, foreshadowing his martyrdom!); why are you going? how can we know the way? why is there ‘a little while’? how will we see you again? The expanded version of Jesus’ final words, found in the intervening chapters, especially in John 16, also uses 13:33. Finally the disciples will claim to have cracked the riddle (16:29).

John 13:33 is fairly obvious to hearers and readers of the gospel, which adds to the dramatic tension when we see the disciples fumbling over its meaning. Jesus will not be with the disciples for much longer; he is returning to the Father. They will remain behind. Doing what? John 14 will tell us they are to be equipped with another Helper, Jesus, the first Helper, having departed (14:15-17). This Helper, the paraclete, the spirit, will equip them for their mission (14:12-14). As the Father sent the Son, so the Son will send the disciples (20:21), to do as he did, to make the Father known (1:18), to offer the invitation to oneness.

Such instructions to the disciples on that last night become in the gospel also instructions to all disciples who will come to believe in Jesus because of their mission (as in 17:20). That is how the gospel works and why these chapters are important. If the first draft focused on mission, the present expanded form in John 15-17 focuses on unity: oneness with God and oneness with each other. This may well reflect the growing relevance of these concerns in the communities which would read John’s gospel. If 1 John is any indication, divisions threatened these communities. For that reason some see the famous saying in 13:34-35, too, as having been added as part of the final expansion. Maybe it was. Certainly 13:34-35 fits what precedes. It tells us what we are to do in the interim, after Jesus has departed.

Oneness in love is the language of intimacy. It applies to our relation with God and Christ (and to their relationship). It is to apply also to our relationships with each other in community. It will become Jesus’ parting prayer for his disciples and those who believe through their word (John 17). It encompasses evangelism and it encompasses the challenge of being Christian community. It is even more connected than that. For 13:35 implies that a community of love is a statement of evangelism: ‘by this shall all know’ (see also the purpose of unity: ‘that the world may believe’ 17:21). This is not airy-fairy invisible unity but the kind of caring in community which can be seen and experienced. Christians and Christian communities are to model among themselves the love they have seen and experienced in Christ.

This is not about propaganda or strategic techniques, but about being. Real caring communicates. The rhetoric of caring and the strategic planning without it will be seen for what they are: selling a product because of vested interests of some kind other than love, such as winning a following for the divine entrepreneur, giving religious people a sense of power and achievement, growing numbers and guaranteeing the boss’s favour. ‘For the love of God’ people will not be loved. There are respectable theologies to undergird all of these. But John’s understanding is bafflingly simple and different from this: we find life and give life to others in relationship with the God who gives life and with each other in community. The life of God and the life of love is its own reward, the only glory.

First Reading: Easter 5: 19 May Acts 11:1-18
Epistle: Easter 5:  19 May  Revelation 21:1-6