Monday, April 26, 2010

The New Testament in a Year: John 13-17

For my own personal study, I am using a combination of tools. These include listening to an audio version of the Bible (TNIV) and a series of commentaries in addition to the text itself. I recognize that not everyone will have access to these materials. I can at least provide a link to the Biblical text itself. For this purpose, I've found that is a very useful tool. Not only does it include the TNIV, which enables me to link to the same text as what I'm listening to with the audio version, but one can easily switch to another translation (if one so desires) simply by using the drop-down menus. I hope that this is helpful.

This week, I am working through John, chapters 13-17.

Before moving on to specific references, I want to comment that the first thing that stood out to me upon going through these chapters is that chapter 13 opens with a scene generally understood to be part of the Last Supper (despite John not referring to the body/bread and blood/wine in this passage, as the synoptic Gospels do).  Yet, by the end of the five chapters for the week, Jesus has still not yet been arrested.

Chapter 13

  • Verse 2 - This is the first of a couple of references to the Devil in relation to Judas and Judas' betrayal of Jesus.  At this point, John merely says that the Devil "had already prompted Judas... to betray Jesus."  The later reference is stronger.
  • Verse 10 - When Jesus responds to Peter's request to not only wash his feet, but indeed his whole body, I tend to picture Jesus laughing out loud before he explains to Peter why only washing one's feet is sufficient.
  • Verse 27 - Here's the second reference to the Devil (here explicitly called "Satan").  This time, "Satan entered into (Judas)."  I wonder what John is thinking about when he says that Satan (fully) "entered into" Judas at this time (and explicitly at this moment), vs. where the Devil had only been prompting Judas earlier.  To further muddy the waters, should this reference to the Devil be taken to suggest that Judas was somehow not responsible for his actions?
  • Verses 21-30 - I'm a bit surprised at the disciples' confusion here (of course, the suggestion that the disciples are easily confused is nothing new).  In one moment, they ask Jesus who will be the one to betray him, and he gives them an answer that seems to explicitly point to Judas. Then they don't understand why Jesus tells Judas to "do quickly" what he is about to do.  Seems obvious enough to me that he's saying "so you're going to betray me.  Let's get it over with."
Chapter 14
  • Verse 9 - Jesus seems surprised at Philip's lack of knowledge.  Given how often the disciples are demonstrated not to understand what Jesus is telling them, this is perhaps surprising.  On the other hand, perhaps it's reassuring that Jesus (who, as he's so intent on pointing out to us in this passage, is one with the Father) assumes knowledge on the part of his followers rather than the lack of it.1  It's kind of a vote of confidence, really....
  • Verse 15-26 - It seems to me that any attempt to understand the person of the Holy Spirit (undeniably the trickiest part of the Trinity to grasp) needs to spend a fair bit of time with this passage.
Chapter 15
  • Verse 2 - It doesn't matter if it's good or bad, you're going to get cut!
  • Verses 5-8 - While the analogy of vine and branches works in many respects, I wonder why Jesus uses it for the rather non-passive2 command to "remain in (Jesus)."  A branch has no power to cut one's self off, even if it "wanted" to.  A branch only fails to remain a part of the vine because something else cuts it off!  But I don't get the impression that this particular analogy is one of Jesus' "beware of the devil" warnings.
  • Verses 13-17 - It's well-known, of course, that Jesus commands us to love each other.  However, there's something about this context of Jesus calling his disciples "friends" that I find particular special--and particularly challenging.  Not just because Jesus couples being "friends" with doing what Jesus commands (although that's hard enough!), but also because this implicitly challenges me to a more social and communal life towards my friends than I may find comfortable. 
  • Verses 18-25 - Anyone who says that following Christ is supposed to be easy are going to find these verses particularly difficult.
  • Verses 26-27 - Another bit to add to the "need to spend time with in any attempt to understand the Holy Spirit" bit.
Chapter 16
  • Verse 5: "None of you asks me, 'Where are you going?'" - Actually, Peter did, in John 13:36. 
  • Verse 7 - I take it that "the Advocate" (that is, the Holy Spirit, see the verses already referenced in Chapter 15) is actually better (in at lease some respect) than Jesus, for Jesus to say it's a good thing that Jesus is going away, because the Advocate won't come if he doesn't....  (But I've got to say, writing that statement makes me feel a little bit heretical.  I'm just trying to follow what the Bible says!  Honest!)
  • Verse 29 - How is it that the disciples can say that Jesus is speaking clearly now as opposed to so much of what they failed to understand earlier that often seems even clearer than these immediately preceding verses?
Chapter 17
  • This whole chapter is a prayer Jesus prays to God.  Of course, like some others of Jesus' prayers, it has a definite feel of being as much being directed to Jesus' followers as it seems directed to God.

1See J. Ramsey Michaels, John (New International Bible Commentary), Hendrickson, 1989, p. 268.
2Michaels, p. 271.

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