This post is part of a reflective Lenten series, originally published as Facebook posts on my personal account.
Lenten practice, day #38.
Reference: John 13:1-15
I’d like to start out by making a quick remark about this section that directly relates to the last post. One of the first statements made in this section reads as follows: “The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over.” It’s just interesting—even the Gospels account for Judas’ motivations and make it clear that there is bigger evil out there than this one fundamentally misguided man.
Anyway, on to new content. I’m a little hesitant about writing this reflection—mostly because basically every reflection on this part of the gospel turns out with the same message: to lead we must serve. That’s a good thing and the message is totally true, but it’s also a little repetitive. That being said, I’m going to try and see what other content can come out of this section.
John’s gospel—the only one of the 4 canonical gospels that is not considered “synoptic”—always has a very interesting take on the events of Jesus’ life and a much more poetic writing style. Many people find the Gospel of John to be more immediately relatable than that of Matthew, Mark, or Luke.
I really like the part at the beginning of this passage where it directly states that Jesus, at this point, knew what was going on and had been given full power by God, though I’m not entirely sure what it means. Any thoughts from the peanut gallery? We know that shortly after this part, he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane that this cup may pass from him if it God’s will. How do we reconcile the urgent prayer of Jesus with the idea that Jesus has full power?
Perhaps it really all boils down to his submission to God. We know that Jesus really, really, really didn’t want to have to be crucified. I once saw a reflection that explained his prayer as not asking that DEATH pass him, but this specific punishment in all its pain and agony. If Jesus had complete power over the situation, it would have been easy for him to pick for himself a different punishment and make it happen. But he doesn’t do what he wants. He asks God’s permission first. The fact that he decides ultimately that he cannot (or really, should not) let this cup (particular punishment) pass him by likely indicates that there is something very, very special about his death on the cross as opposed to any other kind of death.
It’s also important to note that with his complete power, he doesn’t do what he wants, he does what he ought. Today, we seem to define freedom as “doing whatever you want,” or “the ABILITY to do whatever you want.” But Jesus’ actions here take that a step further. He doesn’t do what he wants, but what he ought. He truly exercises his freedom. He says, “I can, but I ought not.”
May we strive to live authentically free in our lives each day, not being slave to the idea that just because we have the opportunity to do less than what’s best means we should or we must do what’s less. We should always do what’s right, and the ability to choose that on our own accord is called freedom. “Freedom” doesn’t change with its outcome, it changes with its choices.