The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on John 13:21-33, 36-38

Posted by Dim Bulb on March 29, 2015

Jn 13:21. “When Jesus said these things, He was troubled in spirit.” He voluntarily permitted the inferior faculties of His soul to feel sorrow and indignation at the criminal treachery of Judas, which he was soon to carry into effect, as well as his base ingratitude. No doubt, the fore-knowledge of his damnation, which was to follow his act of suicide in hanging himself with a halter, deeply affected the merciful soul of our Divine Lord. (For a full explanation of this passage to v. 30, see Matthew 26:21–26, Commentary.)

And He testified,” openly declared what He before had only insinuated (v. 19), “and said,” adding, solemnly, to His seemingly incredible declaration, “Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you shall betray Me.”

When did our Lord say this? Was it before the institution of the Blessed Eucharist? Some hold it was. Others, following the order of narrative given by St. Luke (22:21), hold that it was after the institution, He uttered these words; and that Matthew and Mark describe this by anticipation. St. Augustine (Lib. 3, de Consensi Evang. c. 1), and other Expositors, reconcile the narrative of the Evangelists, by saying, our Lord referred to the treason of Judas both before and after the institution of the Blessed Eucharist. The order of events was, probably, as follows: after the Paschal supper was over, and when the common Jewish supper, which succeeded it, had commenced, our Lord rose from table, while they were engaged at the common supper, and washed His disciples’ feet, and then reclining, said all that is recorded in this chapter from verse 12 to this verse 21. Then, troubled in spirit, He refers to the traitor, and on each one asking, “Is it I, Lord?” and Jesus replying, “Thou hast said it” (Matthew 26:25), He instituted the Blessed Eucharist. After which, He again refers to the traitor, as in Luke (22:21). Then, Peter asked John, to know of whom He spoke, and our Lord answers, “to whom I shall reach bread dipped” (v. 26). Whereupon, Judas, on receiving the morsel at our Lord’s hands, after the devil had entered into Him, withdraws. After that, our Lord delivered the following beautiful discourse to His disciples.

Jn 13:22. The disciples, in their terror and anxious state of perplexity, each asked, “Is it I, Lord?” (Matthew 26:22).

Jn 13:23. Our Lord then institutes the Blessed Sacrament, and this is omitted by St. John, as this Adorable Institution is fully recorded by the three other Evangelists. St. John fully details (6.), the promise of this institution, with all its circumstances. After the institution of the Blessed Eucharist, our Lord again refers to the treason of Judas, and the events occurred, which are recorded in this verse (23), and the subsequent part of this chapter.

Leaning on Jesus’s bosom.” This happened owing to the mode of sitting or reclining at table, according to the custom then prevalent in Judea. It does not mean, that he was actually lying on our Saviour’s bosom; but, that he sat next Him, so that his head naturally fell back on our Saviour’s bosom, when he spoke to Him. This was a mark of special favour.

One of His disciples whom Jesus loved.” This refers to St. John himself. He omits expressly mentioning his own name, out of a feeling of modest humility.

Jn 13:24. “Beckoned to him,” either by signs, or in a very low tone of voice, so as not to be heard by others. Peter may, possibly, have in view, to prevent the actual betrayal of our Lord, if necessary, by force, as in the case of Malchus, the High Priest’s servant.

Jn 13:25. “He, therefore, leaning on the breast of Jesus.” From the position John held at table next to our Lord, he had his head quite near the breast of his Divine Master (v. 23). Now, on being asked by Peter, he turned towards him, and again leaning on the breast of Jesus, questioned Him, “Who is it?” It would appear from verses 28, 29, that all this was said in so low a tone of voice, as not to reach the other Apostles.

Jn 13:26. “Bread dipped.” The prevalent custom in the East was to use the hand as the instrument for conveying food to the mouth. It was also customary to have a dish filled with some sauce, into which all were wont, in common, to dip pieces of bread before eating it. Hence, when our Lord says, “he that dippeth his hand with Me in the dish,” etc. (Matthew 26:23), He only refers to the traitor, in a general way, as forming part of the company, and as one of His intimate friends. Now, He gives a secret, special intimation by saying, “he, to whom I shall reach bread dipped,” and suiting the action to the word, handed it to Judas Iscariot. From this, St. John clearly saw Judas was the person referred to. Very likely, Judas, purse-bearer and almoner to our Lord and to the Apostolic College, occupied a place near our Lord, St. John being on the other side of Him, as it would be difficult to reach a morsel except to one immediately near Him. This distinction both as to the place he held, and the handing a morsel dipped, which was also regarded as a privilege and mark of special favour, only helped to aggravate the heinous ingratitude of Judas.

Jn 13:27. “Satan entered into him.” Already had Judas yielded to the suggestions and temptations of the devil (v. 2). But now, the fiend takes full possession of him, rendering him utterly reprobate, driving him on recklessly to destruction. Judas now becomes a tool in his hands, to perpetrate the greatest crime, the betrayal of his Divine Master and benefactor. The communication between our Lord and St. John relative to the horrid treason of Judas was conducted in an under-tone, unperceived by others. Now, our Lord, in an audible tone, addresses Judas, “that which thou dost, do it quickly.” This is permissive, not mandatory, as if He said in the language of stern, indignant reproach: I know your wicked designs; I fear not your worst; I am prepared for the consequences of your base treason. “What you do,” you are prepared and determined to do, you may as well do at once.

Jn 13:28, 29. Although some at least may have known, that Judas was the traitor referred to; still, they did not understand the words of our Lord to convey that the execution of his treasonable designs was so near at hand. They thought that Judas was only commissioned to procure at once what might be required for the coming week or seven days of the Paschal solemnity, or to distribute alms to the poor.

Jn 13:30. The two preceding verses, 28, 29, would seem to convey, parenthetically an observation of the Evangelist, who returns to the narrative regarding Judas. He, on receiving the morsel, and being informed by our Lord, in reply to his question (Matthew 26:25), that it was to him reference was made, “went out immediately,” on seeing that his treasonable design was discovered, and that he was excluded by our Lord from His society for ever. He may have been resolved on losing no time; lest our Redeemer might possibly arrange to escape, as He often did before; and so, he would lose the stipulated sum of thirty pieces of silver. He may have been also apprehensive that the other Apostles, on discovering his wicked designs, might lay violent hands on him.

And it was night.” A time well suited for carrying out treasonable designs.

From this, to chapter 18:, the Evangelist records the beautiful discourse, which our Lord delivered as a valedictory address to His beloved disciples, on the eve of His departure from them, full of tenderness, and replete with solid instruction as to their line of action in the future circumstances of difficulty and peril which awaited them, when His visible presence would be withdrawn from them.

Jn 13:31. “When, therefore, he was gone out.” The Evangelist refers to this circumstance, solely for the purpose of accurately noting the time.

Glorified,” or shortly to be glorified. The past tense is put, to denote what would certainly take place in the future, just at hand. The Son of Man was to be glorified in His Passion, through which the redemption of man was to be accomplished, and His victory over death, sin and hell brought about.

He was also to be “glorified” in the wonderful events that were to occur at His death—the darkness, the earthquake—which proclaimed that God was suffering; also in the events that were to succeed it, His glorious Resurrection and Ascension, the sending down of the Holy Ghost as promised, all which proclaimed Him to be God. Now, this Passion, the source of His glory, was about to commence, owing to the betrayal of His apostate disciple.

And God is glorified in Him,” since, by Him and His Sacred Passion, the leading Attributes of God, His justice, and hatred of sin, His eternal mercy and love for His creatures, are set forth in the clearest light.

Jn 13:32. “And if God is glorified in Him.” “If,” means since—since God is glorified in Him … “will also (in time) glorify Him,” render this Son of Man and his humanity, glorious, “in Himself,” by Himself, since the latent Deity, to which his humanity is united, will display itself and show Him to be the Son of God; and that, “immediately,” in the miraculous and stupendous events accompanying His Passion now at hand, and in the wonderful events, which are to succeed, to be completed by His Assumption, or, rather, Ascension, when He shall enter into the glory of His Father.

Jn 13:33. “Little children.” This is the consoling language of endearment and tender affection expressed by Him, now on the point of leaving them.

Yet a little while,” etc. He refers to His approaching Passion just at hand, which had virtually commenced with the treason of Judas, who had just left, to put in execution his criminal designs. In these words, He confirms His assertion that He was to be glorified immediately. Some understand, “yet a tittle while,” of the interval that was to elapse between this and His Ascension. But, as His intercourse with them between His Resurrection and Ascension was that of an Immortal and Divine Being, rather than of a mortal man, and as He will not be with them then in His usual mortal condition and familiarity as heretofore; hence, His words are generally understood of His approaching Passion.

You shall ask Me,” in your difficulties and perplexities, with view of receiving strength, advice and consolation, “and as I said to the Jews,” meaning the Jewish people generally, or their chief men in Jerusalem, on two occasions (7:34; 8:21, and on the last occasion, repeating the dreadful prediction of their reprobation, “you shall die in your sins.” “Whither I go, you cannot come.” The Apostles will be anxious to follow Him to heaven and share in His glory, and rest from their labours. But, they will not be able to attain to it “now,” as they are destined to spread the Gospel throughout the earth. It is only after great labours, persecution and suffering, to be completed by shedding their blood, they will be allowed to follow Him and share in His rest. Unlike the Jews, who would not find Him, and die in their sins, He consoles His disciples, His “own children,” with the assurance that, after having passed through the gates of death and an ordeal of suffering, final glory and rest shall be their assured portion (v. 36).

Some Expositors connect “now,” not with, “I say to you,” but with “come.” “You cannot come now,” implying, as He says, verse 36, “Thou shalt follow hereafter.”

Jn 12:36. St. Peter, absorbed in the thought that his Master was to depart from him, and seemingly listening in a heedless way, to the rest of the discourse, now with characteristic ardour, joined to great love for his Divine Master, asks, “Lord, whither goest Thou?” Our Lord, answering not Peter’s question regarding the place; but, replying to Peter’s intention of following Him to danger, even to death, tells how “he cannot follow Him now.” He is not yet prepared to die. His faith is not sufficiently strong to enable him to face death, now. So his hour is not yet come. His work for the Gospel is still before him; and his death, which will not be unlike that of his Divine Master, will open for him the gates of everlasting bliss. He will follow Him, hereafter, at some future day.

Jn 13:37. In the fulness of his love and zeal, and over confident in his own strength, which was partly the cause of his fall, by exposing himself unnecessarily to the proximate occasion of sinning against faith, he professes himself ready and willing to follow his Master to any place, ever so beset with danger: nay, ready to lay down his life for Him.

Jn 13:38. Our Lord tells Peter that far from going to death with Him, he will deny Him, and that before dawn of the following morning (see Matthew 26:34). Likely, our Lord predicted this twice, 1st, in the Supper Hall, as here, and Luke (22:34); 2ndly, on their way to Gethsemane, after leaving the Supper Hall, as in Matthew and Mark (14:30). St. Mark says, “before the cock crows twice,” referring to the first and second crowing of the cock. The first crowing of the cock occurred at midnight; and took place after Peter’s first denial. The second, at day dawn. This latter took place after Peter’s third denial—so that before the second crowing of the cock, Peter denied Him thrice, as is here clearly predicted.

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