Tuesday, March 11, 2014

John 13:1-17

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary Year 4 Lenten Cycle, most recently on Mar 16, 2014.

Summary for John 13:1-17:  In this passage, Jesus asserts himself as a moral example and THE teacher, concluding with a challenging 'if' statement about blessings.  Perhaps this law-filled message is a good one to hear during Lent -- our journey to the cross is not simply one of mild self-imposed discomfort.  Rather, it is the difficult work of dealing with, if not healing, the sins of others in a caring manner.  Admittedly, there is plenty of Gospel too, revealed in the extent of Christ's love for us in both the foot-washing and the foreshadowing of the cross.  And yes, there's living water once again.

As I ponder this text within the context of Lent, I see the powerful interplay between faith, humilty and grace at work.   We will not be able to serve others, certainly not blessed by it, until we become aware of grace, of Jesus Christ and his tremendous self-emptying love.  I believe that only in acts of having our feet washed -- realizing that Jesus knows our sins, and still loves us and cares for us -- are we made into disciples.  We cannot "accept" Jesus, but we learn to confess him as teacher and Lord as we encounter him in times of weakness and sin.

Key words
εις τελος  ("completely", 13:1)  Jesus hear says he will love the disciples "to the end," literally.  It means more naturally "completely" but translators wanted to leave in this connection to Jesus words from the cross, "it is finished."  If they really wanted to do that though, they should have translated this passage as "He loved them to the finish."  A gift to my methodist friends:  The phrase could also mean "into fullness" or "into perfection." (Love divine anyone!!)

τιθησιν  (from τιθημι, "to place or lay down". 13:4)  In John chapter 10, Jesus declared he is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.  Here Jesus lays down his garments.  I think this suggests his act of food washing is the beginning of his laying down his life for his disciples.  (Indeed 13:3 gives the context for Jesus' actions)

βαλλω  ("throw", 13:2 and 5).  In vs 2, this verb appears in a brutal form:  genitive perfect participle!  The point is that the devil throws something into Judas' heart, namely greed, fear and hatred.  Jesus, on the other hand, throws water into a basin.  Water to cleanse, water to heal and water to make whole.

ο διδασκαλος ο κυριος ("THE teacher THE lord"  13:13,14)  Every translator drops the article from both versus.  Jesus is not just a teacher or a lord, but THE teacher and THE lord.  This alone is worth preaching on.

ει and εαν (if, 13:17)  These words are best translated as "if."  Both are used in John 13:17
ει you understand, you are blessed εαν you do these things.
The first ει means more "since" than "if" when it is paired with an indicative verb, as it is in this case.  This is why the NIV gets it right by translating this "Now that you know these things"
εαν is more hypothetical and demands the subjunctive, as it is in this case. 
But this if could also be translated as "when"; see John 11:10; John 12:32.
In short, the sentence could read:
"Since you understand this, you are blessed when you do these things."

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