by miriam berg
Chapter XIII

(John 13:1-38)
After his entry hailed by the people with palm branches, and his enigmatic remarks to some unidentified Greeks, quite possibly an attempt by the author of John to justify Jesus to the Gentiles, Jesus and his disciples sit down to a Passover supper. From here to the end of John the timetable of events more nearly matches'that of the Synoptics, proving that the tale of Jesus' final days was well known to all the early Christians, even if neither John nor the Synoptics can be relied on as to the other events in Jesus' life. But we can find disparity after disparity as we compare these verses with Jesus' words in the Synoptics. This chapter starts with the jarring note that Jesus "loved his own which were in the world" (v. 1), clashing with the man we see dining with publicans and sinners (Mk. 2:15; Luke 7:34), the healer of everyone who asked, the teacher of unlimited love of friends and enemies alike, the sorrower over the destruction of Jerusalem whom we read about in the Synoptics.

The Synoptics do not report the incident of Jesus washing the disciples' feet. We do have words from Jesus in the Synoptics emphasizing that he who serves is the greatest, rather than he who appears to be great (Mark 9:35; Mark 10:43-44). So it is not impossible that Jesus did this, as an affectionate if not a symbolic act. But when he says, Ye call me Lord and Master, and so I am; we are disposed to doubt the manner in which John reports the event, since Jesus asserts positively in the Synoptics:
Be ye not called Rabbi, for one is your teacher, and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father on the earth, for one is your father, even God. Neither be ye called masters; for one is your master, even the Spirit of God. (Matt. 23:8-10)
Now of course it may be argued that Jesus was here speaking of himself, when he says one master, and one father, and one teacher. But it is quite evident that by Father he was referring to God, and since he elsewhere repudiates the title of "Good Master", saying that only God is good (Mark 10:18; Luke 18:19), and in the gospel of Thomas he tells Thomas, I am not your master, we can justifiably conclude that Jesus was referring to God in all three examples from the Synoptics when he uttered these words. So while Jesus may have washed the disciples' feet (although the event may simply be a literal reading of his remark that he who would be greatest among them should be their servant), we cannot attach any special significance to his reported claim in John to be their lord and master. Their leader he was, certainly, and their idol; but where is the evidence for any supernatural authority? And here we encounter another exclusivist phrase: I know whom I have chosen. His proverb, He that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me, is found aiso in the Synoptics, so we can believe that Jesus said it, but it doesn't make Jesus any more divine than would our receiving of anyone, since we are all created by and potential emissaries of God.

Then we find out that Jesus predicted that one of them would betray him. This, too, we find in the Synoptics, and anyway we cannot doubt that the Jesus who predicted his death could have also foreseen his betrayal and who would do it. But John reports that Satan entered Judas after Jesus gave him the sop, whereas Luke (22:3-6) reports that Judas had already plotted to betray him before the last Supper.  Which reporter do we believe? And here we encounter the beginning of the claim to privileged authorship for John's gospel: the reference to one of the disciples, "whom Jesus loved". But Jesus has already been reported in John as saying that he loved them all; is the author saying that this disciple was loved more than the others? Or is that perhaps just his conceit? But even so, the author does not claim to be this special disciple, neither here nor anywhere else in John's gospel, so we need not think that he is. For that matter, he can hardly have been the disciple John, when we read how Jesus reprimanded both James and John for their demand to sit on the right and left of Jesus in heaven, reported by the Synoptics (Mark 10:35-45); Matt. 20:20-28; Luke 22:25-27), and for their attitude towards the Samaritans in the visit to Samaria, as reported by Luke (9:52-56).

The crux of John appears: "Love one another", even as I have loved you. No more certain evidence of John's failure to understand the teachings of Jesus can we find than this emphasis on loving their own group members as the supreme commandment. Jesus has said emphatically in Matthew and Luke, Love even your enemies; what good is it if you have love to your friends only? Now our personal sense of devotion and need for brotherhood may cause us to prize this Johannine principle; but if Jesus said, Love all people, even the Samaritans, and the evil and the good and the just and the unjust, he cannot have also said that the most important commandment was to love their own group first. If a man give another a cup of cold water only then is the Christ in him. (Mark 9:41) You should prove to be a neighbor even unto those whom you consider your enemies, if you are going to fulfil the commandment, Love your neighbor as yourself. So we cannot think that the author of John was in possession of the actual teachings of Jesus, when he calls the highest commandment something which is so different from the teaching given by Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount.

(John 13:1-38)
Finally we have the report, which is also found in the Synoptics, that Jesus predicted that Peter would deny him thrice. This is a touching story, probably preserved as evidence that even the most doubtful could later join the Christian fellowship, since this Peter who refused three times to acknowledge Jesus became the acknowledged head of the Christian Church. But it clashes with the story, which is however reported by Matthew only, that Jesus praised Peter for calling him the Messiah and said that on that "rock" he would build his church. It thus serves rather to refute'that pronouncement in Matthew, since it is not found in Mark or Luke, neither of whom can be conceived to have forgotten it, especially Mark, who is supposed to have been Peter's companion in Rome. And once that is gone, we are left with no evidence that Jesus said anything at all about forming a church, which is also not mentioned anywhere in the gospel of John.

But perhaps the most important feature of the Last Supper as reported by John is the absence of the prescription of the communion, which is reported in Paul's epistle to the Corinthians and in all of the Synoptic gospels. But Luke also contains a different form of the saying Jesus made during the Passover supper, which is probably the oldest form of what he said on that occasion:
With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: for I say unto you, I will not eat it, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.
      And he received a cup, and when he had given thanks, he said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves; for I say unto you, I will not drink from the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come. (Luke 22:15-18)
We believe that this is the oldest record of what he said because there is no commemorative admonition nor any comparison with his body and blood but still enough to account for the origin of the ritual of the bread and wine. This may be compared with the saying found in Paul's epistle:
The Lord Jesus in the night in which he was betrayed took bread; and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, This is my body, which is for you: this do in remembrance of me.
      In like manner also the cup, after supper, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood: this do, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. (I Cor. 2:23-25)
and the corresponding report in all three Synoptics:
And as they were eating, he took bread, and when he had blessed, he brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take ye: this is my body.
      And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave to them: and they all drank of it. And he said unto them, This is my blood of the covenant, which is shed for many.
     Verify I say unto you, I will no more drink of the fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God. (Mark 14:22-25; Matt. 26:26-29; Luke 22:19-20)
Even the most evangelical scholars concede that the letters of Paul predate the gospels; so that it is impossible to escape the conclusion that Matthew, Mark, and Luke derived their words from the Epistle to the Corinthians. Verse 14:25 in Mark and 26:29 in Matthew appear to be derived from the same tradition as verse 22:18 in Luke. But this prescription is not found in John, even though elsewhere he reports Jesus as saying, My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed (6:55), and as saying that only those who eat his flesh and drink his blood can have life. Now it is impossible to interpret this literally, whether Jesus actually said it or not; but literally or figuratively, what does it have to do with ethical conduct, such as Jesus has been teaching elsewhere, and where is the moral teaching? If it was a literal command, how can anyone today eat Jesus' body, and anyway is it not a form of ritual cannibalism, the ancient pagan belief that you could take on the properties of the god by devouring him? If it is an allegorical command, and the flesh and blood are meant only symbolically to stand for the godly qualities of compassion and mercy, what is the warrant for blessing bread in the church, and watching the priest drink the wine he has waved his hands over? If it is not an allegorical command, but a command to perform a ritual in his memory once a day or week or month or year, what has that ritual got to do with the practice of compassion and forgiveness either? "I will have mercy and not sacrifice," Jesus twice quotes from Hosea (6:6) in Matthew (9:13,12:7). Is not the ritual of the bread and wine, or body and blood, simply another form of sacrifice, less bloody than killing a lamb or a pigeon, but the same in essence, the same as dropping the pinch of incense before Caesar, the same as praying to idols, a form of appeasement, in the hope that God will change her behavior towards us? If it is different, how? If it is a command to perform a symbolic act, an act symbolic of a mystical invisible transformation which occurs when we have the bread and wine in our stomachs and not otherwise, is not this sheer pagan magical beliefs, little short of voodoo? But even if it is none of these, but merely a corporate unifying act, a formal mimicry of the communion which occurs among people whenever we break bread or share wine together, what's remembrance of Jesus got to do with that, or transfusions from the Holy Spirit, or transsubstantiation of a mixture of flour, yeast, and water into compassion and love? Perhaps we are all a little more loving when we have our stomachs full, but that is a biological fact and not a theological one. You might just as well tell me that I should get drunk in order to feel good! since obviously people do feel more friendly and more carefree when they've had a little wine and a little cookie. What's the difference? I'm not trying to make fun of the mass, I'm just trying to point out that there's no difference that I can see, and that even if there was the command doesn't come from Jesus.

In short, or as short as I can make it since I am unable to contain my contempt for this caricature of the religious experience, this denigration, this descent from the highest ethical, moral, religious, compassionate, and loving teachings of all time embodied in the words of Jesus and Amos and Hosea: Forgive unto seventy times seven, or in other words as often as you are asked for forgiveness; in short, after all this, I cannot come up with a justification for the ritual of the mass that is not pagan, magical, cannibalistic, objectionable, delusive, and un-Jesusian in every respect, if I read correctly the Jesus of the Synoptics, who says: Do not let people see you praying in public; do what you can for people without consideration of reward; have faith that you are now, right now, in the love of God, and seek to transmit that love to all people; do not be anxious about material things, but seek the righteousness of God, the righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees and priests and formalists and fathers and doctors of the church and ordained ministers and all those who seek power and authority over others, if not also pomp and wealth. Shall not God give us what we need, in the same way that we seek to give our children what they need, whether we go to a building with a steeple and an altar or not, or eat a cracker or drink wine in public or not? What does God require of us, asks Micah (6:8), but to do justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly with God? What does God care where we worship or how; in a church, or on a beach, or in the woods, or on a mountain top; or by kneeling, or singing, or dancing, or being silent; as long as we care for one another, for all people, for all creation? "I hate your sabbaths, your feast days", Amos quotes God as saying; "Learn to do well, relieve the oppressed, care for the orphan and the widow", says Isaiah in his turn. Can Jesus or anyone else say more?

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