St. John's Gospel

The Passion: Part 2: The trial before Annas and Caiaphas c18:12-27

The individual scenes that make up the Passion Narratives in the four Gospels differ in many ways between themselves that it becomes impossible to write just one detailed account. The basic narrative is the same but the details differ with each Evangelist. St John does not include the two points of the trials mentioned in the other Gospels, that of messiahship and that of blasphemy. The so-called trials in front of Annas and Caiaphas must have been special occasions as there is no other record of such courts meeting at night. The very fact that Jesus was arrested privately at night demonstrates the religious leaders’ fear of Him and intimates the irregularity of the situation. Caiaphas’ intentions stated earlier are now being realised: ‘it is better for one man to die for the people’.

St John’s description of the interrogation emphasises the sharp contrast between Jesus’ open testimony and the denials of Peter. Jesus does not deny He has been teaching, but His teaching has always been quite open, mostly where the Jews gathered. Christianity has never been a mystery religion passed on through secret teachings and rituals. The faith has always been transmitted orally, and the Gospels, about the identity of Jesus and His teaching, are the fruit of an oral tradition.  The risen Jesus will send the Holy Spirit at Easter, but now Jesus continues His emphasis on the foundational role of the Apostles, those chosen by Him.

Almost simultaneously, Peter denies knowing Jesus and uses the opposite to Jesus’ language when, in answer to a question, he stated ‘I am not’. Symbolically Peter is standing in the artificial lights brought by the servants to arrest Jesus, and warming Himself by the artificial fire. The light and heat were real enough but, compared with the real light and truth, they pale into insignificance. Jesus knew His weakness, and confirms as he predicted that they would all be scattered.   

The choice of Peter to lead the Apostles in their post-resurrection mission and His denial sets up the final scene of the Gospel, when the risen Jesus asks Peter; ‘Do you love me?’ (To be continued).

The Passion: Part 1: The Arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane c18:1-12

The Passion Narrative in St John’s Gospel is very similar in its main outline to those of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). The basic outline was well known through the earliest professions of faith that Jesus had died on the Cross according to the Scriptures, had been buried, rose on the third day according to the Scriptures, and had been seen by the Apostles. This creedal statement found in St Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians quickly took on narrative form and, in the earliest years of the Church, when the Gospels were first written, this section was probably completed first.

The departure of Jesus to the well frequented spot of Gethsemane gave the opportunity for Judas to arrange for Jesus to be arrested in private. The group that came to arrest him, an amalgam of Romans soldiers and Jewish militia, reflect the forces of the world arraigned against Jesus. The Church Fathers contrasted the artificial lights brought by the soldiers with Jesus being the light of the world. Throughout the Passion, though it might seem as if the powerful have the upper hand, Jesus is in command. Hence He replies ‘I am He’, recording all those times he had spoken of completing the Jewish rites with phrases such as ‘I am the good shepherd’ and ‘I am the bread of Life’. Since Jesus took command of the situation He asks that the others, the apostles, might go free, thus fulfilling a line of His prayer to the Father, ‘I have watched over them and not one is lost’ (17:12). Throughout the Passion Jesus’ shows His love for the Apostles and their future mission. ‘He loved them to the end’ (13:1).

Peter, however, does not understand this and attacks the High Priest’s servant, Malchus, in an attempt to protect Jesus. Peter as the central Apostle is a foil for every believer to understand their relationship with Jesus. His reluctance to have his feet washed initially, and now his violent attempts to save Jesus, demonstrates how deep the process of conversion needs to go. Pride and misunderstanding are never too far away. The way of violence and self-assertion will not achieve the ends to which Jesus serves, and this non-violent approach has forever been the hallmark of authentic martyrdom within the Church. 

The Farewell Discourse: The Priestly Prayer of Jesus: Part 3 (17:20-26)

The final section of the Priestly Prayer of Jesus is a prayer that draws the disciples into the love that the Father and the Son share. The mention of Jesus’ love for the disciples reminds the reader of the opening sequence of the after supper narrative: ‘He always loved those who were His own in the world’ (13:1). This was the prelude to the great act of charity, the washing of the disciples’ feet. The apostles about to be sent out into the world will require the same bond that unites the Father and the Son. This love is both the essence and the person of the Holy Spirit, who will be the principle of unity that brings the apostles together, the spiritual heart of the Church.

The divinely constituted unity of the apostles, and of their successors, will be an authentic witness to the divine foundation of the Church. The historic divisions that exist between the Churches are a stain on the Church, and detract from the claim of its divine foundation. Jesus emphasises that it is their oneness that will reveal the true nature of God. The ecumenical movement between Churches discovers its divine mandate in this prayer of Jesus, and what seems natural from a human perspective is revealed as inimical to God.

Jesus now recognises His divine antecedence. The use of the imperfect tense, similar to the prologue, points to the timelessness of the Word that exists for all time. The risen Jesus, dwelling in the domain of God, will be ever present to His apostles and their successors throughout the ages. Earlier Jesus had spoken of the work of the Paraclete, the other Advocate, as bringing the apostles into the fullness of truth, which is equivalent to possessing eternal life itself. St John emphasises that the experience of eternal life will now become a reality after His death and Resurrection, made possible through the working of the Holy Spirit. The prayer concludes on a positive note. Despite the onset of the hour of darkness that will include the walk to Gethsemane and the arrest and trial, Jesus looks towards the future and the time when the reality of the love between the Father and the Son becomes a visible reality in the Church.

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