04 February 2006

Exegeting John 13.27

For various reasons, we are prone to read episodes and statements in the Scriptures--and especially those by Our Lord--assuming a tone of voice that is too often ours.

For example, in St John 13.27, "Jesus said to him, 'What you do, do quickly.'" Quite apart from whether Jesus is speaking to Judas or Satan-in-Judas, one needs to ponder what tone of voice Our Lord uses when He says what He says. Is He being snide and sarcastic? Is He challenging Judas, and telling him to get the sin over with?

That's how we tend to hear these words--especially if they are spoken rather than chanted. For the wonderful thing about chanting the Gospel is that our (conscious or subconcious) interpretive inflections are left behind. But that's another topic...

To assume that Our Lord is speaking like we do is to assume that He's letting His passions get the best of Him--that in His human nature, He's prone to get snappy and irritable.

If we acknowledge, however, that the Son of God became as we are, except without sin; and if we confess that, above all else, the Lord is merciful, then perhaps there's another way to read St John 13.27. Perhaps Jesus is not laying down the gauntlet or issuing an ultimatum--to Judas or Satan-in-Judas. Perhaps Jesus is urging Judas to do quickly what Our Lord has, for three years, taught him to do, and which Judas knows full well; namely, to repent by turning aside from his betraying plot.

To my way of thinking, this "tone of voice" seems most appropriate to Our Lord. Which means that He's not showing Judas the door; rather, He's pleading with him to reconsider and to "come home."


Rev. Benjamin Harju said...

Another possibility that strikes me is that perhaps the Lord Jesus says what He says to Judas because He's determined to push on toward the cross. It doesn't have to be that Jesus is letting His passions get the best of Him, for sure, but I'm not entirely convinced that He's telling Judas to repent. It seems to cut against the grain of the established context (Jn. 13:18-30).

It seems entirely fitting that Jesus, apart from being snappy or any such thing, is saying, "It's time. Let's do this." The statement may serve to show that Jesus is really the one in control, not Satan or the Pharisees or anyone else. The events of Holy Week happen by divine design. Perhaps the Lord Jesus' words in John 13:27 serve to underline that point.

fr john w fenton said...

Pr Harju,

This sounds reasonable--except it puts Jesus in the position of daring Judas to sin. I'm not sure that's what the merciful Lord does.

Unless, of course, he's speaking to Satan-in-Judas; in which case, your statement has greater merit. For then Jesus is daring Satan to do his worst.

Fredric J. Einstein said...

Perhaps the comment was made because we are speaking of the eve of the Passover and all preparations must be made in haste according to Torah Law. In our ecumenical (Christian/Orthodox Judaism) disputations at the local yeshiva, we discussed this statment at length as Christ's fulfillment of ALL of the Torah Laws of the Passover among them, the positive commandment to prepare the Passover sacrifice in haste (see Exodus 12.11).

fr john w fenton said...


Thanks for the comment. To help me understand, are you saying that Jesus is telling Judas to go quickly to make Passover preparations? And if so, is He refering to Himself; i.e., that Judas is to go quickly to prepare the Christ as the Passover Lamb?