“After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.’ The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke.” (John 13:21)
Whoa! What?? That must have been quite a startling moment! One of us is going to betray you? And to hear it from Jesus’ own mouth, seemingly out of nowhere! Even Jesus is visibly troubled when he says it.
Remember that he’s just washed their feet. And though he’s the only one who knows, he’s washed the feet of the one who’s getting ready to turn him in to those with a warrant out for his arrest! Can you imagine the fear and confusion the disciples must have been facing at that time?
Have you ever felt that way? Shocked, caught off guard by something completely unexpected, not knowing what’s going to happen next? We know how the story’s going to go. We know that Jesus is going to be arrested in just a few hours, but they don’t know that yet.
Poor Peter has just made a fool of himself the last time he questioned Jesus washing the disciples’ feet moments before this takes place. So, he sees another disciple sitting right up against Jesus, John, often characterized as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” So, to avoid another embarrassing incident, he gets John to ask Jesus. You can almost see Peter signal to John, and see John lean in close to ask the question, to whisper, “Lord, who is it?”
And Jesus says—I would imagine a whisper in response, “the one to whom I give this piece of bread after I’ve dipped it.” Jesus is like an open book to John. This is for John’s eyes only. Jesus dips the piece of bread and gives it to Judas Iscariot. John writes, “Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus says to Judas, ‘What you’re going to do, just do it quickly.’” Which throws everyone into confusion once more. Is Judas, as the one who oversees the money, going to buy something for their big feast? Is he going to give something to the poor? Judas himself had talked about that in the Gospel of John earlier in the week.
With the other disciples confused several times over, Judas takes the bread and goes out into the night. The Gospel of John sees everything as either light or darkness. In the midst of the fear and confusion, Judas leaves his group, he leaves his community behind and goes out into the darkness, away from the light—to betray the Light.
When Judas leaves them behind for the darkness, Jesus tells them that he himself will be glorified in this event and that God will be glorified in all of this too. He addresses the disciples as little children and tells them that where he’s going they can’t follow. Though he’s leaving, he’s not going into the night, into the darkness like Judas. Jesus is going to his heavenly Father. BUT, before he goes, before he departs from them to prepare a place for them, before the glory of God is revealed to the whole world, Jesus tells his disciples, I’m giving you a new commandment so that you’ll love one another. He tells them, this is how you do it: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. He says, if you do this, everyone will know that you’re my disciples.
At this point, Peter just can’t help himself. He has to speak up. “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you can’t follow me now, but you’ll follow afterward.” BUT THEN Peter says, “Lord, why can’t I just follow you now?’” He even says to Jesus, “I will lay down my life for you.” Isn’t that something? Peter says, I will lay down my life for you. Who’s the Savior here?
Just look at this picture John paints—this whole scene. The disciples are shocked, scared, uncertain about what tomorrow is going to look like. They know that Jesus is going to be arrested and one of them will be to blame. How do they respond? Well, one is going to find a way to get something out of it. He’s going to betray Jesus himself. Another wants to be the hero. He shrewdly gets the information he wants and then decides that he’s going to offer himself as a sacrifice. Jesus sends out the former, and to the latter he says, before the night is over, even you are going to deny me. These are all too common responses—postures—when we as humans find ourselves in hard situations. We see it all around us today. The outright villains and the false heroes—designations which are increasingly relative these days. The hero of one is the villain of another.
In the midst of it all, stands the one who says, “just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” Even though he is troubled in all of this, Jesus brings something to our world, something to our dark society that nobody else really has to offer—unity in love. And not just any love. This isn’t the love of coercion. It’s not the love of fame or fortune. It’s not the love of being right. It’s not a love that can be used for political persuasion. This is real love. It’s like the love that a parent has for child or a child has for a parent, but it’s even greater than that. It’s the love of the Creator himself dying for his creation when we don’t deserve it. There’s nothing in this world that even comes close to being comparable to that. As a lot of people in our society are continuing to make decisions, and in those decisions appearing to be at odds with one another, I encourage you to be guided by the commandment of Jesus. Human societies will always have their heroes and their villains. They will come and they will go. But Jesus himself remains forever. He is the Savior of all. His love remains, and everything else will always pale in comparison