Wednesday, March 19, 2008

4-Fold Theology of John 13

The readings for this Holy Week offer so much for rich reflection. The Church especially spends quite a bit of time this week with chapter 13 of the Gospel of John, definitely one of my favorite chapters of scripture.  I offer four points for reflection:

1.  This chapter alone provides one of  John's riches metaphors for the meaning of the Incarnation.  Jesus, aware of his divinity, rises from the eschatological banquet at the side of his Father, comes down to earth, puts on a towel over his divinity, the clothing of a servant, and begins to wash our feet.  In Peter is our constant rejection of God's mercy, yet Christ argues in order to show us his love.  Not even our No is enough.   

2.  We receive a rich theology of the Eucharist here, as well as the sad reality of the mystical body of Satan.  John never actually mentions the offering of the bread and wine as Jesus body and blood. Instead we are given the meaning of those events: service of our brothers and sisters.  But even more interestingly, we are given a negative theology of the Eucharist.  The only bread taken and received in this passage from Jesus is the morsel of bread received by Judas.  Immediately afterwards Satan enters his heart. What are we to make of this?  Jesus offers Judas bread at the Eucharistic banquet, and Satan enters his heart.  No other Gospel shows so clearly the possibility of a demonic Eucharist. After reflection on this passage, I would hope that we never receive the Eucharist again in the same way.  Our own disposition, as the old prayer books constantly emphasized, is worth more than we know. Satan can enter the heart at any time, even at that moment of most intimate prayer and friendship, at the reception of Jesus own body.  For us, it may not be Jesus body.  As has often been said, there is also a mystical body of Satan.  And he has his own eucharist that makes its way into Jesus' last meal. May it not be us who brings that body into the Mass.

3.  We also receive a theology of the beloved disciple, and so of all true Christianity.  I think often the meaning of the  beloved disciple reclining on Jesus' breast is missed.  I was reading in the Greek the other day, and realized that the same word is used here in 13:25 as is used in 1:18.  The same word is often translated differently, karpos, which is unhelpful.  Just as Jesus resides in the breast of his Father, so does each Beloved Disciple reside in Jesus' breast.  And so just as Jesus exegetes or makes known the inner mystery of the Father for us, so the Beloved Disciple of every age, the saint, does the same for Jesus, making known the mysteries of intimacy with Christ to all Christians.  This is the heart of John's theology, "abide in me, and I in you."  Just as he abides in the Father.  This is not about John and Jesus being gay.  

4.  Peter is not lying when he says he will lay down his life for Jesus.   He is sincere.  But Jesus is not lying when he promises that Peter will deny him.  Jesus "tells truly" that Peter will deny him.  I did not lie when I took vows.  I will love Christ till I die, loving him through poverty, chastity, and obedience.  Yet I will also deny Jesus three times, denying and breaking my vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.  This is the heartbreaking reality of human promises given as the last verse of chapter 13.  Where lies our hope?  In the first verse of chapter 14: "Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Have faith in God; have faith also in me."  

Markel, SJ

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