I might as well confess: I don’t pray in groups much anymore. That’s not to say that I don’t pray out loud, but when I do pray out loud, usually the only one who hears me is God. Or I’ll be offering a cursory ritualistic prayer before eating a meal with family or church family. I bring this up because when I do pray as part of a larger praying group, sometimes I become acutely conscious of the other people hearing my prayer as well as God. Sometimes we pray with witnesses to the act, or an audience, or however else you might term the third parties listening to what you’re saying to God. And as a result, we may say certain things for the benefit of the people listening.
Here it is: the final chapter of Jesus Christ’s final message to his disciples before his crucifixion. And absurdly enough, I can’t help thinking of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. The fourth novel in the trilogy (yes, you read that right) presents God’s final message to his creation as “We apologize for the inconvenience.” Of course, Jesus takes a higher view of God than the silly and irreverent Hitchhiker’s Guide, which persistently presents God as roughly as incompetent a manager of affairs as the rest of us (if he exists at all), but one has to start a blog post somewhere. Let’s dispense with this frivolous introduction and continue investigating what Jesus has to say when faced with impending death.
Remember yesterday, when I said today I might take a further look at the Holy Spirit in today’s post? Well, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and bears witness of the Son. That’s verse 26. It’s the only verse in this chapter about the Holy Spirit. There! Now that we’ve taken a further look at the Holy Spirit’s role in this chapter, we can move on to consider the other 96% of the text.
If you don’t want to hear Jesus’ last message to his disciples before his crucifixion, you’d better either close your Bible or skip ahead to John 18. The other gospel authors each spend maybe half a chapter on the Last Supper, but John devotes an entire three chapters to Jesus’ words over the meal, plus a fourth chapter in which Jesus gives a prayer entrusting the disciples to God the Father. It’s time to dig into these meaty chapters, so in the words of professional video game expert Tim Rogers: click that X, or buckle that seat belt. You make the choice.
In John 13, we get into Jesus’ last Passover, and as you might expect, there’s a cloud hanging over it. Last things have a tendency to be sad. (And of course a song comes to mind; here I’m thinking of “The Last Unicorn.”) But in spite of the path before him, Jesus doesn’t focus on his own suffering, present or future. Instead, he begins the Passover by washing his disciples’ feet.
I could talk some more about Lazarus today, along with his sisters. They show up in this chapter. But I only have so much time and space to talk about the chapter, and it seems there are bigger things going on here. In any of the gospels, when you come to Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, you know you’re entering the endgame.
Is it fair to call Lazarus’ resurrection the second-biggest resurrection in the Bible? If you’re going by volume, absolutely. John devotes an entire chapter, 57 verses long, to Lazarus’ death, return from the dead, and the fallout of his resurrection. The only resurrection that gets more scriptural air time is, of course, Jesus’ own. And coming back from the dead is kind of a big deal in itself, so Lazarus’ return is a big deal among big deals.
Welcome to the Sheep Chapter. Here, Jesus famously declares himself to be the good shepherd and develops the sheep-herding metaphor at length. I had forgotten that it continues directly from the previous chapter. I’d thought chapter 9 was the Man Blind from Birth Chapter, then the last verse of chapter 9, and scene, and then the curtain opens on a new section where Jesus teaches about his relationship to his sheep. But no! All this sheep talk comes hot on the heels of a handful of Pharisees asking Jesus if they are blind, and Jesus responding: yes. Yes, you are.
Let’s just pull off the band-aid right away: today we’re opening the Theodicy Can with all its Theodicy Worms. Apparently someone put a band-aid on the Theodicy Can. I’m not sure what they thought it would do, if they thought the can was injured or maybe the band-aid would help it stay shut, but we’re tearing off the band-aid and opening up the can. All mixed metaphors aside, today’s chapter of John features Jesus healing a man blind from birth, and right off the bat his disciples ask why the man was born blind.
In today’s chapter, we’ve got one of my favorite scenes from the gospels, in which Jesus goes to bat on behalf of a woman caught in adultery.