The Betrayal Confusion

The readings for Sunday, April 24, 2016, Fifth Sunday of Easter, Cycle C, are
Acts 14:21-27; Revelation 21:1-5a; and John 13:31-33a, 34-35.


The general context of this gospel reading is the Last Supper. The specific context is a solemn statement that “one of you will betray me.” Great consternation follows. The disciples looked at one another. The disciple “whom Jesus loved” was closest to Jesus. The usually impulsive Simon the Rock had to know the identity of the betrayer. He cajoles the Beloved Disciple to charm Jesus into revealing the betrayer’s name. The Beloved Disciple complies, and asks Jesus directly, “Who is it?” Jesus gives a clue, “The one to whom I will give this bit of bread after I dip it.” He hands the tidbit to Judas. John writes, “Then…Satan entered into him.” An important principle of John’s Gospel is that nothing happens to Jesus unless he permits it or commands it. Strangely therefore Jesus commands Judas, “What you do, do quickly.” The others at the table remained clueless for now. As Judas leaves the table, John adds ominously, “And it was night!”

Did Jesus command his own betrayal? John gives an unexpected answer — Jesus did not order his own betrayal but his own “glorification.” Therefore, after Judas leaves, John depicts Jesus saying, “Now is the Son of Man glorified….” The betrayal was a catalyst toward the glorification.

“Son of Man” is a title all four Gospels use as a title of Jesus. Its origin is in the Book of Daniel 7:13-14. There it means “a human being” or “one like a human being.” In Daniel, this human being is a symbol of the hoped for victory of the pious Jews of Judea who were suffering persecution from the Syrians under King Antiochus IV Epiphanes. As time went on, this symbolic “Son of Man” evolved in Jewish literature into an expected leader who would smash their enemies and set up a political kingdom that would last forever. Christian teachers and writers picked up on this Jewish literature and gave it a new spin. They understood statements about Daniel’s “Son of Man” as a prediction about Jesus, whose kingdom would last forever, not a political kingdom but a heavenly kingdom. Thus the title “Son of Man” is applied to Jesus by the Gospels.

But what does John mean by “the glorification” of Jesus in the statement, “Now is the Son of Man glorified… ? In the Gospel of John the glorification of Jesus is a process. It includes his betrayal, arrest, trials, torture, crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection/ascension, return with and bestowal of the Holy Spirit upon the Christian Community. And strange to say, Judas became the immediate instrument to set the process into motion, and did so at the command of Jesus — at least in the theology of the Gospel of John. John adds to the statement of the Son of Man’s (Jesus’) glorification, “If God is glorified in him (the Son of Man), God will also glorify him in himself, and God will glorify him at once.” Confusing? That would be an understatement!
A probable meaning of this confusing statement is this: God will be known and praised in what is about to happen to Jesus, because it will be understood that all happened according to God’s eternal plan. At the same time as God’s glorification or becoming known and praised happens, Jesus himself will be glorified, that is, become known and praised because of what he accomplished in the whole process of glorification. Jesus notes that his glorification will happen “at once.” As soon as he leaves the table of the Last Supper and enters the garden on the Mount of Olives, Judas will be at hand, with Roman soldiers and temple police. Thus Judas initiated the process of glorification of Jesus.

Jesus warns them that he will soon be gone. It was time to tell his disciples of his love for them, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.” This commandment of love was sorely needed. We know this not so much from the Gospel of John but from the other three Gospels. These were human beings tempted to ambition and envy, faults that manifest themselves especially in monarchical establishments. But John is writing not only on the level of Jesus’ time, but even more on the level of his own time and beyond. Therefore the commandment of love should be understood as directed to all Christians of all time. What kind of love does Jesus command? “As I have loved you, so you should love one another.” How did he demonstrate this selfless love? Jesus acted out an unforgettable symbol of such a love when he washed the feet of his disciples. A powerful symbol, because such a performance is not usually pleasant, just as serving and living for others is not always pleasant.