Saturday, March 12, 2016

A New Mandate

It is a curious fact that the Gospel reading appointed for Maundy Thursday, John 13:1-17, 31b-35, omits completely John's account of Judas' betrayal.  While there is mention of the impending betrayal in the first verses of the reading, the actual encounter between Jesus and Judas, when Judas takes the bread, eats it, and then goes out into the night, is omitted.  What this does, at least to my way of thinking, is it makes less powerful the words of Jesus in verse 31 where he says, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified."  If we had heard of the betrayal of Judas, we might well say, "Now?  Now, that Judas has gone out into the darkness to release the hordes of wickedness?  Now?!"  Indeed, now!  The Cross of Christ is where God is glorified and the Christ as well.  Stunning paradox!

(The following questions attempt to get at some of the core issues for Law/Gospel preachers. For more on this way of preaching, check out my guide, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  This is one of those rare texts in which we see the Word performing all the tasks for which it is equipped.  We see the Word performing the work of the Law, convicting of sin, and calling to repentance:  "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me."  We also see the Word performing the work of the Gospel, announcing the Good News:  "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in Him."  Finally we see the Word calling us to obedience:  "So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet."  Each of these functions of the Word is present, distinct from one another.

2. With whom are you identifying in the text?  The way we answer this question will undoubtedly shape the sermon a great deal.  We might choose to identify with the disciples as a group. That would be a good option.  We are the ones who need to be washed by Jesus, the ones for whom Jesus died, and the ones called to service.  Or another option could be to identify with one of the disciples mentioned by name - Peter or Judas.  Peter is the confused, albeit enthusiastic one, who is always speaking before thinking.  Judas is the betrayer.  If we choose Judas, it will be important for us to include verses 18-31a to fill out the story.

3.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by the text?  Words present in the text itself give us a few ideas:  unclean/clean; without a share/having a full share; servants/masters.

4.  Exegetical work:  Raymond Brown's exhaustive commentary, The Gospel According to John, provides multiple insights into this rich story.  Here are some of his comments:  "The very idea that love is a commandment is interesting.  In the OT the Ten Commandments have a setting in the covenant between God and Israel at Sinai; traditionally they were the stipulations that Israel had to observe if it was to be God's chosen people.  In speaking of love as the new commandment for those whom Jesus had chosen as his own... the evangelist shows implicitly that he is thinking of this Last Supper scene in covenant terms." (p. 612)  "In what sense is the commandment to love one another a 'new commandment'?...The newness of the commandment of love is related to the theme of covenant at the Last Supper - the 'new commandment' of John xiii 34 is the basic stipulation of the 'new covenant' of Luke xxii 20.  Both expressions reflect the early Christian understanding that in Jesus and his followers was fulfilled the dream of Jeremiah (xxxi 31-34)..." (pp. 613-614)  "The mark that distinguishes God's love expressed in the covenant from even the noblest forms of human love is that it is spontaneous and unmotivated, directed to men who are sinners and unworthy of love..." (p. 614)

5.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  Peter Keyel, in his analysis, takes a simple, yet effective approach around the word 'cleanliness.'  He centers on the words and actions of the characters in the drama regarding being clean, and proceeds to show how we who are unclean (law) are made clean by Jesus, who takes upon himself our 'dirt.' (gospel).  Go to study and you will find this analysis archived under 2013 Year C Gospel, Maundy Thursday.

Blessings on your proclamation!

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