The Study Guide for Next Week, John Chapters 20 and 21 follows the Sermon below.
Study Guide for the Gospel of John, Chapters 18 and 19
The Passion Narrative: The story of Jesus’ crucifixion follows the same four “acts” as that of the Synoptic Gospels: Arrest, Trial before the Jewish High Priest, Trial before Pilate, Crucifixion and Burial. There are a few interesting differences:
Arrest: Jesus and his disciples go across the Kidron to an unnamed garden. There is no prayer to the Father here, that ground has already been covered in Chapter 12: 27-28. Here he is eager to “drink this cup that the Father has given me.” The garden scene here centers completely on the arrest.
Judas and Jesus: Judas leads a squadron of the Pharisee’s men, and Jesus comes out to meet them, asking “who are you seeking?” Sound familiar? When they tell him they are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, note his answer: I AM. Note the power of that name.
Disciples: Do Jesus disciples abandon him? Also notice how Peter gets to the courtyard outside of the place where Jesus is on trial.
Interrogation by Annas: How is this story different from the Jewish trials of Jesus in the Synoptics?
To avoid ritual defilement: Remember that John places the “last supper” on the night before Passover. How does that timing place the narrative of Jesus’ crucifixion in a different frame?
Trial before Pilate: This is a much more developed scenario than the other Gospels. Only John explains why the Jewish leadership has to bring Jesus to Pilate and why Pilate agreed to a death sentence, thought he thinks Jesus is innocent of any capital crime.
Jesus Kingship: This is the real issue in both the Jewish trial and the Roman one. Why is it important in the judgment he receives? How is the Jewish understanding of what that would mean different than the Roman one?
Are you the king of the Jews: Pilate’s dull questions take the place of those of the Jewish authorities who have been arguing with Jesus all along, showing that John’s treatment of “the Jews” is not really a form of anti-Semitism. Pilate also represents the world that refuses the truth about God and itself.
Here is your King: Some translators say that Pilate seated Jesus on his judgment seat; see if there’s a note in your text. This is his last attempt to save Jesus from death, but it doesn’t work.
We have no king but the Emperor: The leadership that rejects Jesus’ kingship makes this true. They have in fact chosen the Roman leadership over the leader sent by God.
The King of the Jews: The whole of Jesus’ encounter with Pilate is ironic, new for this Evangelist. The final irony is that Pilate does indeed give Jesus the title of King in all its Imperial splendor.
Standing near the cross: Who is at the cross with the awake and aware Jesus? Jesus’ mother represents the closeness of Jesus and his community, as she is present at his first ‘sign’ and at this last.
It is finished: Jesus gives up his spirit when his work is complete. He is in charge to the end.
That the Scripture might be fulfilled: How many of the things that happen to Jesus at the end are done for this reason? Why would unbroken bones be an important fulfillment?
The Eyewitness: The writer? This self-reference only happens in John’s Gospel. He is a witness to the truth that you might believe
Nicodemus: A surprise ending? The one who came by night, now comes in the daylight to bury Jesus’ body. John does not say that the tomb belonged to Joseph, but gives us the impression that this act of burial is a ‘coming out’ of both Nicodemus and Joseph.
September 23, 2012
John 18: 1-11 and 28-40; 19: 8-12 and 17-20 and 23-25 and 25-27 and 28-30
There was a garden: keep your ears open for more about this garden. It is so easy to mash the crucifixion stories together. Like the Christmas stories, we have heard them over and over again, mixed together and whirled around enough that the distinctiveness of what each Evangelist wants to share with us in his own unique way can get lost. John does not call this garden by name, but it shows up here and in the tomb and with Mary Magdalene, who mistakes Jesus for a gardner.
So into the garden comes a whole troop of soldiers and temple police. The ‘detachment’ which Judas brings with him is a cohort, which would be hundreds of soldiers. What a surreal picture – Jesus and his few followers entering in the dark this garden that they know so well and being suddenly surrounded by hundreds of cops and soldiers with full armor and torches and lanterns. But it gets better: Jesus asks the same question he asks in the very beginning of John’s Gospel, “Who are you seeking?” and when they tell him he answers with the name of power that flattens them. John wants us to really get that Jesus is not dragged away under someone else’s power, but gives himself over to the authorities willingly, as he tells Peter, “Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
I hope you can see the cinematic quality of this story, the drama in this scene begins a sequence of inside and outside scenes. If I were staging this story, I would put the inside scenery on one side of the stage and the outside on the other, and have the lights come up on one or the other as the story unfolds. So first Jesus is taken inside to Annas, the dowager high priest, as it were, for questioning before he is brought to Caiaphas, the one who previously suggested that it was better to have one person die for the people, than to lose everything and have the church fall apart.
Then we are outside again, in the courtyard where Jesus’ beloved disciple who has followed Jesus, brings Peter in. Peter manages to warm himself by a charcoal fire and deny his association with Jesus, while Jesus, the light of the world is being interrogated. The scene moves from outside the house of the high priest to the courtyard of Pilate’s headquarters.
Read 18: 28-33
This Passover will be observed on the Sabbath, and the temple leadership will not defile themselves by entering the place of a Roman on this Friday night. So ironic, no? They will turn over the Son of God himself in order to preserve the rituals about defilement.
So we are inside and outside again. In the courtyard the Jews bring Jesus for judgment by Pilate so that he can be sacrificed as the other lambs being prepared that evening for the Passover. And then we are inside to hear Pilate’s conversation with Jesus. “My kingdom is not of this world,” says Jesus, maybe even scornfully. Once again he is underestimated and his mission completely misunderstood.
Read 18: 38b-40
“Barabbas was a bandit.” In the back of my mind I hear Jesus saying, the thief runs away while the Good Shepherd gives his life for the sheep. It is as if the Temple leadership is on a collision course; they are committed to making this happen, even though Pilate makes it clear that he does not find a reason to put Jesus to death. But in their threat to make trouble for Pilate, they make true what they have said all along. “We have no King but Caesar,” they cry as they require a judgment of crucifixion. They have rejected the king they awaited for millennia, because they were so entrenched in their image of what that king should be like and how that king would support what they wanted to be the truth.
Read 19: 16b-20
We are so used to the image of the struggling, humiliated Jesus stumbling to Golgotha with Simon of Cyrene carrying his cross for him. We are so used to thinking of Jesus as beat down, punished for our sins, looking sad and dripping blood. This is not what this Jesus looks like. This Jesus is powerful still, standing up to Pilate, unbowed, unmocked, striding to his glorification. The sun does not fail to shine, he is crucified at noon. He is identified as the King of the Jews in every language of the passers-by. “When I am lifted up I will draw all people to myself,” he said. Now all people can see who it is they are looking at.
Read 19: 23-25
The tunic – his outer robe – was seamless, woven in one piece from the top down. This interesting detail catches my attention. This must have been a pretty unusual garment, perhaps a labor of love from someone. Perhaps the Evangelist wants to slow us down to meditate a minute on the theme of the oneness that Jesus alone brings to a broken world. And so the scripture is fulfilled because they had to gamble for it rather than rip it up and ruin it.
Read 19: 25b-27
Jesus, powerful still takes care of those he loves, standing close by him to the end. In bequeathing his mother to his special friend and him to her, he creates a new family, handing over new life to his believers. These are not related by birth or by blood, but gathered into one through the love and the will of this powerful Christ. Remember the words at the beginning of this Gospel “but to all who received him who believed in his name he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”
Read 19: 28-30
It is as if Jesus is ticking off the boxes, fulfilling the requirements of all that is necessary for this incredible work of his to be completed in every detail. Powerful to the end, he completes it all and hands over his spirit to his Father. What an awesome mystery we have witnessed. The writer goes on to explain that since the Passover Sabbath was imminent, they hurried the gruesome task so that the bodies could be taken down before sunset. Breaking their legs would finally kill them, but Jesus was already dead, so they pierced him to confirm it. Like the unblemished lambs who were being slaughtered that afternoon, he was wounded but whole. The writer testifies to us that he saw with his own eyes that these things were true.
Joseph and Nicodemus prepare his body and wrap it for burial. There is no rush, no uncompleted tasks here. These men provide extravagantly for Jesus. And they bury him in a garden. A new beginning in another garden? So we have the witness of the writer and the disciples that Jesus was crucified and really died. And we have the named people who put him in this new tomb. All the questions that could be asked later are answered here.
This is such a different picture from the suffering, tortured Jesus of the images derived from the Synoptic Gospels. I have to admit that I am captured by this powerful, purposeful Jesus who knows exactly what’s in store and just does it. As his disciples look back on each detail they see the connections with the Scriptures that tell God’s people that God will save them, no matter the cost.
Our God is not a God who sets the world in motion and watches from afar. Our God is not a God who leaves us on our own to figure out how to manage in a world of suffering and disaster. Our God came to us to set the world right, to conquer suffering with the healing power of love. When we look at Jesus reigning from the cross, we see straight into the heart of a loving God who will never abandon us, but who comes to remain with us always.
Jesus didn’t just come to people who are good enough or who do the right things. Jesus came to invite all people into the love of God, no matter who you are or what you have or have not done. This love forgives, heals, encourages, transforms our weakness and self-centeredness into a new spirit. We don’t earn God’s love, it comes to us for free. Then we are free to live out of that love to love ourselves and others, to embrace the thorny, messy world around us. With the power unleashed in our hearts by God’s love shown to us in Jesus, we can change the world, one loving act at a time. We never have to worry that we can’t be good enough, or do enough for God to love, because that love has already flowed right over us from the cross. We will see how the end we witnessed today is not the end of the story, but that story is for next week.
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Study Guide for the Gospel According to John,
Chapters 20 and 21
“The Easter narratives of the Fourth Gospel are both like and unlike those of the other Gospels. The differences are most intriguing. One obvious difference is the way our evangelist fixes our attention not on groups of disciples but on a very few individual persons: Mary Magdalene, Peter and the Beloved Disciple, and Thomas. By narrating the experiences of these early followers of Jesus, the evangelist parses the meaning of faith in the resurrected Jesus as “Lord and God.” ( R.H. Smith, Wounded Lord).
The Beloved Disciple: This person shows up at the Last Supper leaning on Jesus’ breast. He becomes more and more an important personage in the concluding chapters of this Gospel. Is he the eyewitness who steps outside the narrative at the crucifixion, or the one who claims to write “these things” that we may believe?
Personal Appearances: John gives us the detailed stories of the reactions of two specific people to the empty tomb. Mary goes and tells the news and Peter and ‘the one whom Jesus loved’ have a foot race. Who believes in Jesus’ resurrection just from the empty tomb?
We also have two personal conversations with Jesus: Mary Magdalene and Thomas. What do these conversations have in common?
As the Father has sent me: There is no Pentecost story in John’s narrative as there is in the second volume of Luke’s. Might this ‘commissioning’ take it’s place? What makes you think so?
Unless I see: What is it Thomas wants to confirm? What difference does it make? What is it that makes Thomas confess so powerfully, “My Lord and my God?”
Now Jesus did many other signs: This seems like a perfect conclusion to John’s message. Any ideas why there’s another chapter after this?
Through believing you might have life: This is the reason why the Evangelist has put this narrative on paper. What other Evangelists tell you why they have written the account that is before you?
By the Sea in Tiberias: The accounts of Jesus’ appearance in John were in Jerusalem. In the Synoptics, the disciples are told to meet Jesus in Galilee. Now this ‘extra’ ending takes place in Galilee, in their familiar fishing grounds.
Showed himself again…in this way: How many disciples are fishing? Is this catch of fish after a night of catching nothing another ‘sign?’ Can you think of what this ‘draft of fishes’ might signify?
It is the Lord! Other Gospels have emphasized the confession of Simon Peter recognizing that Jesus is the Messiah. In this Gospel, others have confessed Jesus’ God-ship. Who? Could this be another example of the different sources for the traditions brought to John’s Gospel?
The net was not torn: Parallel to “that none may be lost?” There is no Eucharist at Jesus final meal with his friends in John. Read about this meal on the shore; are there Eucharistic elements here?
Feed my sheep: The Good Shepherd confers something special on this fisherman. Does this story seem ‘tacked on’ to you? Why or why not? Why do you think it might be important
The rumor spread in the community: Another odd story? Was the Beloved Disciple’s community struggling to understand how to continue in the face of the death of their leader? Other ideas?
This is the disciple: He has revealed Jesus who is close to the Father’s heart, as this disciple is close to Jesus’ heart. Just as Jesus is the final ‘exegete,’ revealer, of God as Word, so this disciple has revealed to us the Word that he experienced so we could experience it also.