NTiR: I’ll leave the foot washing to Jesus (John 13-18)

By | May 20, 2010

Bible and magnifying glassThe Gospel of John is weighing on me. I am really not liking it much at all. As I noted in my previous post, there are just so many things in John that are different or don’t exist in the other Gospels. And John is putting so much energy into painting Jesus as confident and sure of his own divinity, but it comes off as cocky and preachy. I’ll have more in a conclusion at the end of the post. I can give you the short version: Thank God John is almost finished.

Chapter 13
John agrees with Luke that it is the devil that actually causes Judas to betray Jesus. Which is interesting, considering what John wrote about Judas in the previous chapter. While Satan is working his dark magic on Judas, Jesus goes around the room, washing all of the disciples feet. Simon Peter refuses, until Jesus tells Simon that Simon can no longer follow Jesus if Simon doesn’t allow Jesus to wash Simon’s feet. [ed. note: I hate sentences where I can’t use a pronoun without adding more confusion…] Simon relents, of course.

I have a side story here. Once upon a time, about two decades ago or so, I developed a crush on a woman. A strong enough crush that I started going to her church. I have since named this church “the psycho church” for many reasons. One is because of the practice of that denomination. It’s a United Pentecostal church. If you don’t know the Pentecostals, you probably won’t believe this. They are ultra-fundamental, believing that men shouldn’t grow their hair long, women shouldn’t cut their hair nor wear makeup, unmarried men and women shouldn’t mingle, no one should even think about watching tv or movies, etc. I am getting a little off-track here, so let me try to be a bit more concise.

At the psycho church, parts of the Bible were taken literally. Not all the parts of the Bible, mind you, but some disturbing parts. Including washing feet. It was an annual tradition to have one night where people would get together and wash one another’s feet. As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, men and women didn’t mingle, which means that the pastor actually wanted men to wash other men’s feet. That was right about the time that I decided I needed to flee the psycho church.

Back to our story, Jesus tells the disciples that he is going to give a piece of bread to the man that will betray him. Jesus then hands the piece of bread to Judas. For some reason, the other 11 don’t immediately say “A ha! Judas is the traitor!” Instead, they continued to wonder who Jesus could be talking about. Apparently the Disciples are dumb as a box of hammers.

At the table, there was an interesting scene. John delivers this as a throw-away line: “One of his disciples, the one whom Jesus kept loving, was sitting very close to him. So Simon Peter motioned to this man…” I continue to believe that Mary is actually Jesus’s wife, and is the disciple that John is referring to. The “this man” statement sounds tacked on to me, put in place of “her”?

One other detail: Chapter 13 has another one of those verses that make my brain hurt as I try to parse them:  “If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify the Son of Man in himself, and he will glorify him at once.” That is John 13:32 in the ISV. The King James Version is even more muddied (if that is possible):  “If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him.”

Chapter 14
Jesus shares his last words with his disciples. Two of whom get name checked: Phillip, and Judas (not Iscariot). And I swear that “not Iscariot” is directly from the Bible. Look it up! John 14:22.

It is kind of surprising to me just how much of Jesus’s speech in John 14 is used by Christian denominations as major parts of their dogma. “There are many rooms in my Father’s house.” “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  “If you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it.” “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you”

Oh, and Unitarians love this chapter, too: “The person who has seen me has seen the Father.” “Believe me, I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”

For the most part, though, I find this a boring chapter. Moving on.

Chapter 15
Two for two on the boring meter. Jesus talks about vines and branches, and says that no one can bear fruit unless it is through Christ. Which I am pretty sure contradicts what the other gospels say. The other gospels state that a person can do good acts because they are good at heart. It doesn’t say that they can only do these good deeds through Jesus. I find this oddly possessive. Perhaps indicative of a religion that wanted to make its followers listen only to the church?

Chapter 16
Jesus continues to try and prepare his disciples for life after Jesus dies. The disciples – who we’ve already established aren’t necessarily the brightest – still don’t understand that Jesus is saying he is going to die soon. They question his words, trying to make sense out of them. Jesus warns that he will soon leave them, and that the world will then want to persecute and kill the disciples.

Chapter 17
I am starting to see a conspiracy theory here. This chapter very neatly echoes Chapter 15, but in a very clumsy way. Chapter 17 is theoretically a prayer from Jesus to God. The crux of the prayer is: I am leaving so that the Disciples can become the new rulers of my church. Please guide them well, and allow the rest of the world’s people follow what they say. My conspiracy theory is this: John used the latter part of his Gospel specifically to justify the Disciples and their descendents as the de facto leaders of the Christian church. Much of what John writes in his Gospel that doesn’t appear in the other three relates to the Disciples and how they relate to Jesus’s teachings.

What do you think? Am I on to something here?

Chapter 18
Judas betrays Jesus. Judas actually leads officers and a detatchment of soldiers to arrest Jesus, which again is interesting. Since when did Judas hold a position of power? Or if he didn’t, why would the Pharisees allow him to be in a place of command? This doesn’t make any sense to me, though by now you know that is not out of the ordinary. I am not a fan of the Gospel of John.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus walks up to meet the traitor and the Pharisee’s troops. Jesus calmly announces that he is the man they’ve come to arrest. And then John’s perplexing writing confuses me.

At first, this seems straight-forward. In verse 6, John writes that “they backed away and fell to the ground.” Sounds like John is saying that the soldiers and officers were so stunned by Jesus that they fell backwards out of fear. That actually makes sense, in context. But then v. 8 muddies this, as Jesus is talking to the soldiers, it sounds like Jesus is saying it is his disciples that fell to the ground: “I told you that I am [Jesus]. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.” I am so confused.

Jesus is brought before the high priests, then marched to Pilate. Pilate interviews Jesus, and finds him blameless. He tells the Jews this, but they want him put to death. It is the Sabbath, so the Pharisees cannot do it themselves. So the Romans have no choice but to do it for them.

Again I ask: how is it that the Romans have to do what the Pharisees say? The Romans have conquered Judea; why does Pilate have to do anything for the Pharisees?

Up next: John writes a new end to the Gospels

New installments of The New Testament In Review will be posted each Monday and Thursday. The new posts will always be on my blog, http://biffster.org. The entire series is accessible via http://biffster.org/ntir. If you are one of my Facebook friends, you can get an advance preview on my Facebook page. You can also follow me (@biffster) on Twitter to be alerted to new posts.

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