Saturday, March 30, 2013

What Happened After...

We'll skip over the night at Gethsemane, the denials, the weeping. If you want to read it, just let me know. After that, though, in between the denials and Easter morning, Peter drops out of the Gospels. We do not know what happened then, but we can guess.

I woke, shivering and wet, to morning light and the sound of birdsong. I was at Gethsemane. Why...[1]
This very night, you will deny me three times. I jerk upright, clutching my knees to my chest. No. No no no. Surely not-
I do not know the man! Yes. I had denied him. And now-
He deserves death![2] Tears came to my eyes, already sore from weeping, and I put my head between my knees. My master had been taken in the night, and I had done nothing. Worse than nothing. It would have been better if I had stayed away like the others. But I thought I could fix it. I thought…
I jerked to my feet and, stumbling to the nearest tree, I beat my fists on it. I screamed. My fists hurt, but I kept beating them on the tree. I screamed again, louder and longer. My hands were raw and beginning to bleed—then I screamed again, and my throat hurt, and I tasted blood. I welcomed the pain. But it was not enough. It was nothing compared to what they had done to Jesus last night. What I had done to him.
I was no longer screaming. I was crying, and instead of beating against the tree I was leaning on it for support. I sobbed into the rough bark as Christ’s words, and mine, went through my head over and over again, mixing and jumbling but never stopping. You will deny me three times- I do not know the man- three times- may God strike me down- three times- deny- deny- deny- may God-
“Simon!” John’s voice. I could hear people running down the path. I turned around, away from the tree, and began to hastily rub my arm across my face, but then I stopped. They would see me as I was. “Simon!” This time it was Andrew. They were getting closer. No need to answer. The sound drew closer.
My legs were giving. I slowly sank down the tree—I was sitting down, my back to the tree, when they finally ran through the gate. John was in the lead—he had always been a fast runner—with Andrew and James right behind him. They saw me right away, but as they all rushed towards me, John slowed and let the others pass him. Our eyes locked, and in his eyes and on his face I saw the deep grief, for Jesus and all of us, and something more—pity. For me. He knew what had happened. But I could tell by the way the others were hastening towards me that they did not have any idea what I had done. Andrew stooped down next to me and put a hand on my knee, while James remained standing and put his hand on my shoulder. On their faces I could see the same sadness and fear that I was feeling, and there was even a good amount of guilt—but it was nothing compared to what I was feeling.
Andrew was about to say something, but when he saw my face, he paused, and then he said, “You know, then?” I nodded. “You know that they have taken him to Pilate?” Pilate? I shook my head, but then I stopped. Of course they would go to Pilate. Only he could… execute someone. Andrew, carefully watching my face, nodded when he saw the realization hit. “They are asking him to authorize the… the…” I raised my hand, put it on top of his, and nodded. I knew. After a moment, he continued. “We left the others behind to watch and listen, but right now, he is expected to… give his approval.” I nodded again. But still…
“What about the people?” I asked. Or tried to ask. Even I could not understand my croaking, wet, torn voice. After several tries, John, standing behind Andrew, finally understood and said, “The people… are fickle. The priests have been out in the city all morning, stirring up the city against him. There are still a few of us who follow Jesus, but the rest… At this rate, there will be a riot if Pilate decides not to… to execute Jesus.” He stopped, unable to speak anymore, and I nodded again. Of course.
The birds still sang in the trees, their song mingling with the soothing sound of wind in the olive branches. It was so strange, how something so big could happen and the world just did not seem to care.
After a while, Andrew said, “We are going back to Jerusalem, to see what is happening. Will you come with us?” And, rising, he held his hand out to help me up. But I shook my head and remained sitting. As James moved to rejoin John, Andrew asked, “Why not? What will you do?”
The question caught me by surprise. What would I do? What could I do? I shrugged, and then, looking at my scraped and bleeding hands, I said, “Wait. Wait for God to strike me down.” Hopefully I would not wait long.
“What?” Shock and horror were plastered across his face. “What do you mean, Simon? Why? I do not understand-”
“No, you do not!” John had not told him. But he still needed to know. “You do not understand, Andrew! I betrayed him. I abandoned him. I-”
“Simon, we all did! We all ran away, just like he said we would. But now-”
“I followed him, Andrew.” The tears were coming again, but the anger at myself, at what I had done, was holding them back for now. “I followed him to the house of Caiaphas. I was there, in the courtyard, while they were questioning him. But then someone recognized me, and asked me if I was his disciple. Do you know what I said, Andrew?” He slowly shook his head, understanding beginning to dawn. “I said no! And then I said I did not even know who he was!”
Pity was on his face now. Pity I did not deserve. He spoke gently. “Simon, you were panicking. Any one of us would have done the same. It could have happened to-”
“Three times, Andrew!” The tears were beginning to come, choking me, blurring my vision. “Three times, I denied him, just as he had said. Only I did not listen. Three times! Three…” I could not continue. My head dropped between my knees again. I do not know what they decided. All I know is that when I looked up again, only Andrew was there, sitting against the tree across from me. When he saw me looking up at him, he tried to smile, and he looked like he was about to say something, but I dropped my head back down. I was so tired, and I had no more tears.
I must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I remember John was shaking me awake. He was very distressed, and Andrew was crying behind him. “It is happening now,” he said. “He is carrying his cross to the place of the skull. Will you come with us?” His tone was gentle and questioning.
Would I go? I should. But I did not want to. He would see me again, look at me again, and know that I had betrayed him and denied him and…
“No,” I said, in barely more than a whisper. And John nodded and, on rising, walked quickly back out of the garden, with Andrew following behind.
I had been wrong. I did have more tears.


More tears. I still remember the sudden jolt, the spike of insight that said you miserable coward. You cannot even face the man you followed for three years. The man you swore to die for. The man you denied three times. Run, coward, run. And then I had run, drawing in deep, sobbing, gasping breaths as I ran to Golgotha.  He was already on the cross by the time I got there, but I stopped before I drew close. There, a little ways off, were the others. I did not go to them. All the shame and anger in the world could not have forced me to get closer, to see the pain and disappointment in his eyes. Then had come that horrible cry—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”—and I wanted to say it too. I was abandoned, lost and alone, without purpose. After a while, John and the women had drawn closer, but I still stayed behind. And after, when it was over, John had found me, and I was too broken to resist when he drew me along, both us crying. But he was merely grieving and afraid. I was shattered. Ashamed. Angry. Terrified.


It was Saturday, and we did not know what to do. I remembered when he asked us if we, like so many others, would leave him, and I remembered what I had said. Lord, to whom shall we go?[3] Now, he had left us, been taken away, and we had to ask ourselves the same question. Where would we go?
John was staying with a friend in the city, and he had taken me with him.[4] It all seemed pointless, now. There was nothing left. We had believed Jesus was the Son of God. We thought he had a plan. We thought he was going to save us. And now he was dead. I wanted to be angry at him, angry at God, even angry at myself… but the grief overwhelmed the anger. There was no room for it amidst the sadness. Jesus was dead.
It was almost noon, and my stomach growled. I had not eaten anything since… since Passover. It had been more than a day since I had eaten. John, sitting against the opposite wall, raised his red-rimmed eyes. His voice creaked and cracked as he said, “Have you eaten anything since…” I shook my head, and he nodded. Wordlessly he rose, shakily and slowly, and made his way to the door. He opened it and immediately the smell of fresh bread wafted through the air. He turned, and I saw the basket in his hand, flat loaves peeking out of it. His friend must have left it there. He brought it over and sat down next to me, setting the basket down in front of us. But then we left it there. We did not touch it. We did not speak. We hardly even breathed. We sat there and wondered how long our eyes would continue to make tears.
After a very long time, John shook himself. He reached for the basket and dragged it towards himself, then he pulled a loaf of bread out of it. He broke it in two and tried to give one half to me, but I did not move. He opened his mouth and, after a hoarse cough, said, “We have to eat, Simon.”
I did not want to say anything, but he kept holding the bread there, so I said, “What is the point, John?” He slowly lowered the bread, and I continued. “Why should we eat? What is left for us to do? Our hope is gone. Dead.” Crucified. He was still for a moment, but then he shook his head. Slowly he raised his piece of bread to his mouth and bit into it. I watched him tear off a chunk of bread, chew, and swallow.
“It is good,” he said quietly. Then he held out the other piece to me again. “Eat, Simon. It does not matter what we will do after. For now, we will eat. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?” And he took another bite, watching me while he chewed, and almost involuntarily my hand rose and took the bread. My stomach rumbled, and the smell grew stronger as I raised it to my mouth. I took a bite. It was good. As soon as I swallowed, I realized how hungry I was and took another bite. John was doing the same, and before long he reached into the basket and pulled out another loaf, again breaking it and giving half to me.
We did not talk anymore, and tears still came, and after the bread we sat in silence. What would we do? What could we do? Our hope was dead. Shattered. Broken, like me.

[1]Peter disappears from the Gospel narrative following Matthew 26:75. He does not reappear until after the resurrection in John 20:2. The following section is, therefore, entirely speculative. However, I have attempted to keep Peter’s character intact. He has no misconceptions about the gravity of his sin. He knows it to be horrible. He is ashamed of himself. Therefore, he would not go to where he would be likely to meet the other disciples. However, neither would he simply wander the streets for anyone to see. The Garden of Gethsemane could serve both as a comfort and a self-inflicted punishment, reminding Peter of his Lord and his own betrayal of that Lord. The Garden, then, seems a likely place to retreat to.
[4]From John 20:2, we learn than that Peter and John were together following the crucifixion. That it is only Peter and John is nearly certain, because only they are mentioned throughout the entire narrative section—surely the others would at least have been mentioned once had they been present when Mary Magdalene came to them. Lenski (John 1336) says, “Where were these two? Where were the rest of the eleven? Who can tell? Only these two were here—that is all.” I do not know why Peter was with John and not Andrew, his own brother. Perhaps he was still ashamed to be near the others. Perhaps he had a special friendship with John (Lenski reminds us of John 18:15-16, and we may also remember John 13:24). However, speculation can only take us so far. John and Peter were together: where and why Scripture does not reveal. 

Where is Peter--rather, perhaps we should call him Simon, for now--to go? What is he to do? Would it be even remotely possible to return to his life as a fisherman? On that Saturday, the bottom had well and truly fallen out of the world, and the full sense of the despair of Ecclesiastes crashed in upon the disciples, with the added sting of knowing, however briefly, that there was more to existence than this crushing hopelessness.

Like this post?  Check out the full work, Simon, Who Is Called Peter! It combines the readability of First-Person narration with biblical accountability in the form of copious footnotes, allowing you to see the world of the New Testament through the eyes of Jesus' most notorious disciple. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

The (Last) Passover

To us, it is the Last Supper: but to them, it was Passover, a time of joy and remembrance. But the comforting ceremony and celebration of Passover are, unfortunately, short-lived.  They are interrupted by predictions of death and betrayal and faithlessness, which both frightens and angers Peter. To us, the story is finished, and it's easy to ignore what it would be like to actually be part of the story. We are quick to pass judgement, to say, "They should have understood, Peter should have remained strong, he was a coward!" And we can forget that we are all, at times, fools and cowards. One thing that remains certain, that never wavers, is that Peter really does love Jesus.

After a short time, Jesus cleared his throat, and we all looked up again. He said, “I have greatly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.”[1] And he took the nearby cup and filled it with wine—the finest we could find—and prayed briefly over it, giving thanks. Then he drank deeply from it, and when he lowered the cup, he said, “Take this, and drink it amongst yourselves. For I will not drink of this fruit of the vine again until the Kingdom of God comes.” And he passed it down the table, and we each took a drink of it. After that we ate the bitter herbs and washed away the bitterness with another swallow of wine. And then…
“Praise the Lord!” Jesus began suddenly, without warning, and it took us a moment to catch up and begin singing with him. “Praise, O the servants of the Lord, Praise the name of the Lord!” Jesus’ tiredness seemed to fall away from him as he looked up to heaven and sang loudly. “The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens!” Slowly we disciples did the same. We were still confused, and puzzled, but for now we were no longer troubled. Something was going to happen tonight, maybe something horrible, but for now we were praising our God and remembering our Rescuer. Our God had brought our ancestors out of Egypt—surely he could save his Son. My voice rose louder as we reached my favorite part: “Tremble, o earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turns the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a spring of water.”
And then, as the praise ended, Jesus carved the lamb, the sound of the knife loud in the sudden silence, and the meal began and we talked and laughed, happy in the presence of good friends and good wine. I could not remember an unhappy Passover, and this one was no exception.
 But it could not last. After a while, when the meal was almost over, Jesus cleared his throat loudly, and we all fell silent as we turned towards him. The sight of him wiped the smile from my face: I could see pain once again on his face, in his eyes, and when he spoke, I could hear it in his voice.
“I tell you this truly: one of you will betray me.” And that was it. All he said. I sat back in shock as the table exploded around me.
They were all asking him the same question: “Is it I, Lord?”
Jesus answered, and we immediately fell silent to hear him speak: “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me.” That told us nothing. We had all been dipping bread into the bowl with him. I caught John’s eye, sitting next to him, and motioned that he should ask Jesus who it was. He did, quietly, and Jesus answered, but I could not hear him over the noise. I could see the puzzlement and fear on John’s face as Jesus dipped the bread he was holding it into the bowl and handed it to Judas, lying on the other side of him.[2] Judas asked him something, but I could hear neither his question nor Jesus’ answer—Judas, however, went white.
Then Jesus said to Judas, loudly enough for all to hear, “Do what you are doing quickly.” And Judas left without a word, hurriedly and nervously. I was puzzled, but James, sitting next to me, whispered that he might be going out to buy supplies for the rest of the festival, and I nodded. That was probably it. He had our money, anyway.
Jesus gave us no time to think about it, in any case. He cleared his throat again, and once we were all looking at him, he took up one of the remaining pieces of bread and broke it. I started, looking at the last piece of lamb, still on the plate. This was new.[3] This was not part of the ceremony. He said, “Take this bread and eat: this is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And then, while we were still eating it, uncertain and confused, he poured a new cup of wine and, holding it up, said, “This cup is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for many, for the forgiveness of sins. Drink.” And we did, still confused, but not daring to ask what he meant. Indeed, we did not have time, for he immediately began teaching us again.
“I will soon leave you,” he said, “and where I am going, you cannot follow.” I jerked, and a fragment of dismay left my mouth before I could stop it. Jesus continued, “I will give you a new commandment: that you love one another, just as I have loved you. That is how people will know that you are my disciples.”
As soon as he finished speaking, I said, “Lord, where are you going?” And why could we not follow? As if I would not follow wherever he went.
Jesus answered, shaking his head and smiling sadly as if he had read my thoughts. “Where I am going you cannot follow now. But you will follow after.”
I asked again. “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you!” I would, if it came to that—and Jesus seemed certain that it would.
“Simon, Simon,” Jesus said, shaking his head, and I flushed angrily. Not Peter, now, not “rock,” but Simon again. “Satan demanded that he have you, the he might sift you like wheat.” What? Me? Sifted? The room was dead quiet except for Jesus’ voice, which continued calmly, clearly, sadly. “But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
Turned? I would not turn! I replied indignantly, “Lord, I will go with you to prison and to death!” My breath caught in my throat when Jesus only shook his head.
“Will you die for me, Simon? I tell you the truth, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.”[4] Before I could say anything, he began speaking again, as if he had not just told me that I would betray him! I found it hard to sit still, to pay attention, but I forced myself to. “When I sent you out with nothing, no money-bag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” A few of the disciples, unsure of the right answer, said no. He continued. “But now let the one who has a moneybag, or knapsack, or sandals, take them. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. [5] For I tell you that the Scriptures about me shall soon be fulfilled, and I will be counted as a criminal.”
 A sword? We would need a sword? Suddenly I remembered the two swords I had seen, and, pointing to them, I said, “Look, Lord! There are two swords here!” I stood and walked over to them, taking one off the wall and feeling the weight of it in my hand. I had always imagined holding a sword.
Jesus sighed and said, “It is enough.”[6]

[1]The proper reconciling and ordering of the gospel accounts of the Last Supper is difficult but entirely possible. See Hendriksen (Luke 959-60) for the Order of the Passover Feast. The washing of the feet (John 13:1-20) likely occurs before the meal has actually started. The meal then begins with a prayer of thanksgiving and the drinking of the first cup of wine. Hendriksen (Luke 961) links this to Luke 22:17-18: Lenski, however (Luke 1043), links the same verse to the final cup of wine, immediately before the general eating of the lamb begins. It is, to a large extent, irrelevant which is true, because in any case Jesus’ prediction of betrayal would have come afterward, while everyone was eating freely. In summary: the washing of the feet is first. Then, before the eating of the lamb, is the cup of wine mentioned in Luke 22:17-18. Then, during/after the general meal, is the revelation of a traitor and the majority of Jesus’ teaching. Towards the ending of the meal, which would normally be formally ended by the master of the house to eat the last morsel of lamb, Jesus “proceeded to do something entirely new” (Lenski (Luke 1045). It is at this point that the Passover transitions into the Last Supper (Hendriksen (Luke 960) and, according to some commentators (Lenski, Luke 1044), the Sacrament of communion. 
[2] Hendriksen (Matthew 906) says that all at the table would have likely dipped bread in the bowl with Jesus at some point. John’s account, then, does not conflict with this but comes after: John asks, “Who is it?” and Jesus tells John specifically, “It is he to whom I give this bread.” (Hendriksen, John Vol. 2, 247).
[3]Both Lenski and Hendriksen agree that “at this point Passover passes over into the Lord’s Supper.” (Lenski Matthew 1023, Hendriksen Matthew 908). Lenski goes into greater detail, saying, “We shall be safe in assuming that the institution of the Lord’s Supper came at the close of the somewhat ample period of freely eating the Passover food… So about the time the housefather would have gone over to number nine [the ninth stage of Passover], the eating of the last morsel of the lamb, thus stopping all further eating, Jesus proceeded to do something that was entirely new.” It is unclear whether Jesus then, after this, ate the last portion of lamb and continued on with the traditional Passover ceremony. Lenski identifies the singing of hymns mentioned afterward in Matthew 26:30 with “the second part of the hallel, Ps. 115-118, perhaps also the last part, Ps. 120-137, with which the Passover was usually concluded.” Passover was likely ended in the usual manner, but it is still important to note that Christ instituted a new ceremony with new meaning in the midst of the old one.
[4]This section is my best attempt at combining John 13:36-38 with Luke 22:31-34. It is important to note that Lenski sees two predictions of denial: one, recorded by Luke and John, in the upper room, and another, recorded by Matthew and Mark, on the way to the Mount of Olives (Matthew 1035). Mark and Matthew both specify the time as being after they had left the room to go to the Mount of Olives. They also both include that the rooster will crow three times. By contrast, Luke and John certainly seem to place the prediction while they are still in the upper room, with a significant amount of discourse still to be done before leaving, and neither of them mention the double crow and are likewise very similar in language. Given this, Lenski’s interpretation seems preferable to one that conflates the two into one.
[5]Commentators disagree sharply on the proper translation of this section. Most seem to agree that Jesus is talking about a shift, a change in the daily life and work of disciples following his death. The disagreement stems from what Jesus means by his talk of buying a sword (Luke 22:36). Hendriksen (Luke 976) states that the sword cannot mean a literal blade for use in self-defense: instead, the sword is to be taken figuratively as a symbol of courage, of which the disciples will need all they can muster.  Lenski (Luke 1068-9), however, contends that “purse, wallet, sword are not to be allegorized into something spiritual… The injunctions are concrete and simply use specific examples to indicate a complete course of conduct.” Additionally, he adds that “A sword would be needed for protection” from bandits and brigands in their travels. Nolland (Luke 1076) agrees, saying “The sword is thought of as part of the equipment required for the self-sufficiency of any traveler in the Roman world… Protection of one’s person is in view.” I have sided with Lenski and Nolland for this reason:  the purse, bag, and sandals are actual, useful items—items that would be absolutely necessary for Christians traveling through the new, hostile world after Christ’s ascension. There is no reason to allegorize or symbolize them into something else. The sword is in no way separated from these things but is included among them, and Jesus gives no hint that we are to treat the sword differently than the other things. There is a clear reference here to Luke 9:1-6, where Jesus told them the exact opposite (do not take a cloak, moneybag, etc., with no mention of swords) and at that time, the disciples “did not lack anything” despite not bringing these things. This will now not be the case. Before, God provided for the disciples even though they lacked basic necessities. Now that Jesus tells them to bring those things when they did not need them previously, the implication is that God will not provide in the same way. Bring money, sandals, a knapsack, because you will need these things: money and the knapsack to protect against starvation, and sandals to protect against rough terrain and consequent injury. The implication is that God will no longer provide for these things as directly and immediately as he did before. The sword, then, comes as a logical continuation. Before, God protected you from bandits in the same way he protected you against starvation. Both would prevent you from doing God’s work: therefore, both need to be avoided. The sword serves the same purpose as the money-bag and sandals: protection.
[6]The controversy over Luke 22:36 is continued here. Most agree that they are referencing two, actual, Roman short-swords. Hendriksen (Luke 977) sees Jesus’ reply as “curt and decisive,” picturing Jesus as frustrated by the disciples’ inaccurate understanding—they think that he is speaking of actual swords, and his “It is enough” is meant to cut the conversation short before further misunderstandings can be formed. Nolland (Luke 1077) also sees it as expressing frustration, but for a different reason: Jesus is talking about actual swords, but the focus is not on acquiring them (as the disciples believe) but on “the need for the disciples to cope with hitherto unexperienced and therefore yet unexpected difficulty. The Apostles seem to settle for the detail (having swords) without any real readiness to grapple with what the call to have swords means for them.” Lenski (Luke 1070) agrees that Jesus says it “to end the matter,” only because nothing more can be said on this point. Additionally, Lenski offers a possible explanation for where the two swords come from. It is not likely that they mean knives used in the Passover—the word consistently means “sword” and not “knife.” It is even more unlikely that on this night, Passover night, two of the disciples would have come armed to the feast. The most likely explanation is this: “‘Lo, two swords here!’ means that they hung right there in the upper room and belonged to the owner of the house. Peter took one of them on leaving.” I lean more towards Lenski’s interpretation (see above footnote), and also accept his explanation of the origin of the swords, given Peter’s demonstrated ineptness with the blade and the lack of other plausible explanations.

This is, rightly speaking, the last of the Passover's. Before this Passover ends, Jesus does something new, something that hadn't been done before, and turns it into Communion. It becomes something similar, but greater: We do not eat the sacrificial lamb, but  the very body and blood of God Himself, given for us for the forgiveness of our sins. 

Like this post? Check out the full work, Simon, Who Is Called Peter! It combines the readability of First-Person narration with biblical and scholarly accountability in the form of copious footnotes, allowing you to see the world of the New Testament through the eyes of Jesus' most notorious disciple.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Do you wash me?

As John and I finished preparing the table, I noticed that everyone’s feet were very dirty—mine were as well. I winced… the master of the house had not provided a servant to wash our feet. Still, John and I had been working all day. Surely we would not be expected to do it—and anyway, someone would volunteer eventually.[1] We finished and, double-checking that everything was ready, signaled for the others to come and take their places. Everyone wanted to sit next to Jesus, and there was even arguing over who deserved it more. John and I argued that we deserved to sit next to him, given that we had been working all day, but the others disagreed. By chance I saw Jesus shift, saw his face, his expression, and immediately I felt a deep sense of shame.
I stopped speaking, and the others quickly saw what I had seen and fell silent as well. We reclined wherever we found ourselves, and John, standing closest to Jesus, was able to be next to him after all. But as soon as I had settled in, I realized that our feet were still dirty—dry, dusty, and a little uncomfortable. No one had washed them. I saw everyone else thinking the same thing, looking towards the basin and towel, ready for us to use.
But no one moved, except Jesus. He rose up, and as we all watched him in disbelief, he took off his outer robe and wrapped the towel around his waist. I wanted to speak, wanted to say something, anything—but I could not. I could only watch in growing horror at my own pride as Jesus poured the water into the basin and, carrying it back to us, began washing Andrew’s feet. I saw the shame on his face as Jesus poured the water over his feet and dried them with the ends of the towel around his waist. I could see his thoughts: It should be me washing his feet. It was my thought as well—all of ours, I think, as he went around the table and washed our feet. When he finally came to me, I could not take it anymore.
            I stopped him, and said, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” I should be washing his, not the other way around.
            He smiled, gently and sadly, but his voice was firm as he said, “You do not understand what I am doing now. Afterward, you will understand.”
            After? After what? Anyway, it did not matter. “Lord,” I said wretchedly, “You will never wash my feet.”
            Still the sad smile. “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me.”
            Fine. If he wanted to wash me, he could. I needed it. But I would be washed completely.[2] “Lord, then not my feet only but also my hands and head!” I should stop talking. I knew I should.
But I did not, and my shame only grew as Jesus, shaking his head with that sad smile still on his face, said, “He who has bathed already only needs to wash his feet. He is already completely clean.” He was speaking to all of us now. I nodded, still not understanding, really, but he continued. “And you are clean,” he said, looking at all of us, and the smile disappeared as he went on: “But not all of you.” Then he continued, washing my feet and everyone else’s, and no one spoke. We were ashamed and confused, and we did not know what to do.
After he had finished and dressed, he reclined at the table again and, gently and patiently, said, “Do you understand what I have done to you? Do you know why?” He did not wait for us to answer, but went on. “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right to do so, because that is what I am. If, then, I, as your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash each other’s feet.” He stopped speaking and looked around the table, and I could not meet his gaze. I had been proud. I should have washed his feet, and theirs—but I had not.[3]

[1]Hendriksen (John Vol. 2, 228): “The washing of the feet was customary… it was, after all, a menial task, a task to be discharged by a servant… But here in the upper room there was no servant. Hence, one of the disciples should have performed this task. But none was willing.”
[2]MacArthur (John 12-21, 67): “Though he may have missed the Lord’s point and thought He was referring to a physical washing, whatever Jesus was offering, Peter wanted all of it.”
[3]John’s account of the Last Supper is so long that it would be impractical to attempt to include it all in this narrative. I will include only the points most relevant to Peter, with the understanding that I am not attempting to exclude the rest of John’s narrative which I do not explicitly include.

We might well remember Isaiah 43:19: "Behold, I am doing a new thing: now it springs forth, do you not perceive it!" Of course, that could be the theme verse for all of the gospel story, but now it reaches a fever pitch: Jesus will take the Feast of Passover, commemorating, in many ways, the very birth of the Jewish people, and he will turn it into a Sacrament. He will fulfill the Old Covenant and personally implement the New. And now, as before, it will not be perceived immediately. 

Like this post? Check out the full work, Simon, Who Is Called Peter! It combines the readability of First-Person narration with biblical and scholarly accountability in the form of copious footnotes, allowing you to see the world of the New Testament through the eyes of Jesus' most notorious disciple.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Beginning of the End

Like this post? Check out the full work, Simon, Who Is Called Peter! It's been extensively edited and updated, and combines the readability of First-Person narration with biblical and scholarly accountability in the form of copious footnotes, allowing you to see the world of the New Testament through the eyes of Jesus' most notorious disciple.

We're jumping a bit ahead here, simply because there is far too much about the day itself for it to all be in one entry. We find Peter and the rest of the disciples waking up on Passover. For a year, and for the last several weeks in particular, Jesus has been telling them, over and over again, that he will die here. Only a few days ago, he told them that on this very day, he would be delivered up to be crucified. It reminds me (as it must have reminded Peter and the rest) of John 6, when many disciples desert Jesus. Jesus turns to the 12 and asks if they too will leave: Peter's response evidences not just devotion, but is also tinged with resignation: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." Now, it is not the disciples who might leave, but Jesus himself who is telling them that he is going to die. 

Jesus was already outside when we woke up, walking around and praying as he did every morning. We got ready and went out to speak to him, shivering a little in the cool morning air. He was standing there, some distance from the house, head tilted back and arms above his head. We walked quietly to where he stood and waited, until he lowered his arms and brought his head back down to look at us. I stepped forward.[1]
            “Teacher,” I said, “today is the Passover. Where do you want us to go to prepare the meal?” He sighed and nodded, as if he had been already thinking about it. Then he gestured to two of us and said, “Peter, John, go into the city. There you will find a man carrying a jar of water. Follow him, and wherever he enters, tell the master of the house, “The Teacher says, ‘My time is at hand. Where is my guest room, where I may eat Passover with my disciples?’” I repeated the words in my mind as he said them. “He will show you a large upper room furnished and ready: there you will prepare the meal.” We nodded. “And the rest of you,” he added, “rest and pray. This will be a long day.” And with that he walked a little ways off and knelt down on the ground. I frowned. Jesus normally stood when he prayed. He must be very tired. I caught John’s eye and, once he had joined me, we began walking to Jerusalem.[2]
            The time passed slowly as we walked. I could not stop thinking about all the things Jesus had said about his death. For a year now he had been telling us that he would die here, in Jerusalem—several times in the past week alone. Why? How? It just did not make sense. He was more than a man. He was God’s Son, over even Moses and Elijah, and he said and did things that had never been done before. What would happen today?
            We walked in silence, and as we walked I thought about how different this was than our arrival last week. There were no crowds, no palm branches, no chanting. Just the dry dust, stirred by our feet and the light breeze, coating our feet and legs. There was the withered fig tree—it made me think of what we had thought this Passover was going to be like. There was where the Pharisees had stood, glaring at Jesus. They were not there now, but they were surely somewhere, thinking of how to kill Jesus—that had to be what Jesus was worried about.
            After what seemed like a very long time, we reached the city gates. No sooner had we passed through than we saw a man carrying a jar of water, just as Jesus said. I smiled a little to see him walking in the midst of all the women coming from the well.[3] We followed him for a little while until he reached a house. Everything happened exactly as Jesus had said. We found the master of the house, and no sooner were the words out of our mouths than he smiled, nodded, and showed us up to a room.[4] John and I exchanged stunned glances when we saw the room—how was it that such a room was still available?[5]  It was completely furnished with tables and couches,[6] and it even had decorations. There were even—I chuckled to myself—two swords hung up on the wall.
We prepared mostly in silence—I do not think either of us could forget what Jesus had told us over the last few days. However, despite the uncertainty, the preparation was soothing, in a way. We did what we had done every year at Passover since we had been born. The master of the house gave us a lamb, and we took it to the temple and sacrificed it, as we had always done. We prepared it, just as we had always done, just all Jews had done for hundreds of years. Jesus arrived with the rest of the disciples shortly after sundown, just as the lamb was finishing roasting.[7]

[2]The Gospels do not give us the location of the Last Supper. “The city” may refer to either Jerusalem or one of the small suburbs surrounding it, such as Bethany. However, the most logical place, and the most logical “city”, seems to be Jerusalem. Lenski also places the Last Supper in Jerusalem (Matthew 1015).
[3] Lenski (Luke 1037): “This was a woman’s task and was exceptional in the case of a man.” Hendrikson (Matthew 904): “Ordinarily not a man but a woman or a girl would be doing this; hence, this man with a jar of water… will be rather conspicuous.”
[4] Lenski says that “the message… indicates not only that this unnamed man is a disciple of Jesus but also that he one who has advanced in his faith. He will at once know who [the Teacher] is when Peter and John speak to him. And the mysterious expression , ‘My special time is near,’ will be intelligible to him and will at once move him to action.” I agree with Lenski that the man is a disciple of Jesus, but not necessarily that he is further advanced in the faith than the disciples themselves (who do not entirely understand what Jesus means by “his time.”) Jesus tells the disciples to find a particular, unnamed man and say to him that the Teacher is looking for a guest room to celebrate Passover, and then Jesus predicts that the man would show them the furnished, ready room which is then put at their disposal. This does not seem to allow for any puzzlement or unwillingness to lend the room on the part of the house owner. The disciples ask, and immediately the man shows them the room. This implies not only a prior knowledge of Christ but a friendly, subservient disposition to him—that of a disciple. However, full knowledge of exactly what Christ means by “his time” is not necessary—it is entirely possible he merely takes it to mean the time of Passover (as the disciples seem to do). Therefore, the evidence suggests a disciple, but not necessarily one far advanced in the faith.
[5] Lenski (Luke 1038) states that the “furnished and ready” refers to the couches and tables necessary to have a meal in a room, and stresses that the most amazing fact is that the room was still available, given the large number of pilgrims, all of whom would have needed a place to eat Passover.
[7] “While the temple was in being, the Jews sacrificed a lamb in the temple; private persons brought them to the temple, and there slew them… they were to eat the lamb, the same night, roasted, with unleavened bread.” Robinson, Comprehensive Critical and Explanatory Bible Encyclopedia, 725.

Their hope, their rock, their very reason for being, has told them in no uncertain terms that he will be taken and killed as a criminal. They may still hold out for yet another misunderstanding, yet another hope- and grace-filled, "But I say unto you...", but as the night goes on, that hope becomes smaller and smaller as Jesus puts his affairs in order, as one does who is not long for the world.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Jesus Cleanses the Temple

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The day after the triumphal entry, Jesus came back to Jerusalem and the very first thing he did was put the smackdown on the moneychangers and sellers of animals in the temple courtyard. Apparently it didn't stick the first time, and Jesus knew that it would stick the 2nd time. But perhaps Jesus wanted to make a point, to put his Father's House in order, in the knowledge that it would remain in order as long as he was in the city. Perhaps Jesus wanted to die with his Father's House swept clean, once again a house of prayer for all nations, not a den of thieves.

There were no more crowds today. Everyone was already in Jerusalem, and we entered quietly. Jesus led us straight to the temple, and we stopped at the outskirts of the Court of the Gentiles. As we stood there, I began to feel what Jesus must have felt yesterday. The noise was incredibly loud—the money-changers sitting at their tables, the merchants shouting to the passers-by their wares and offers, not to mention the noise of what they were selling, the sheep and the oxen and the doves. The smell of all the animals was horrible, and manure littered the marble floor. The courtyard was full of people bustling around, buying, selling, exchanging. Those who wanted to worship in the Temple had to weave in and out of the tables and merchants and piles of manure: I felt sorry for the Gentiles who could not do even that, who had to stay out here and try to worship in the midst of this... this...
            Before I could finish my thought, I realized that Jesus was gone.[1] I looked around, spotting him just in time to see him kicking over the low table of the nearest money-changer, leaving Jesus face-to-face with the money changer himself.
The man jumped up, shouting and waving his hands, and his shouts of outrage rang out in the sudden silence of the courtyard, as everyone in the area stopped what they were doing and turned.  But then the man’s face went pale and his shouts died as he recognized the man who just yesterday had been hailed by the entire city as a savior. Maybe he even recognized Jesus from that first time, years ago, when Jesus had actually taken a whip to them.[2] But the man stood there only for an instant more before mumbling apologies and fading back into the crowd. The coins from the table had not even stopped rolling before Jesus moved on to another table, kicking that over as well, and then the spell of silence was broken, and the entire courtyard burst into noise and frantic movement. Several of the money-changers began to hurriedly pack up their things, only to find Jesus already there, overturning their tables and scattering their coins. No one moved to stop Jesus: no one dared.
Jesus moved quickly, here kicking over a table, there upsetting the animals and driving them out of the courtyard, all the while shouting “Get out!” But it was not chaotic or random. He never pushed anyone who was already leaving, and he did not harass those who were actually there on Temple business. It was only when the courtyard was almost empty of the buyers and sellers that I realized that we, the disciples, had done nothing. We were still standing, frozen, where Jesus had left us. We watched Jesus in stunned silence as he stood still, in the middle of a wide circle empty except for the broken tables and fallen coins. He was breathing hard, and his face was tight and stern. And when he spoke, he was clear and distinct, each word crisp and sharp.
            “Is it not written,” he cried, turning to glare at all who were watching him, “that ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations?’ But you have made it a den of robbers!” The people he had driven out had stopped at the edge of the courtyard, grouping together and talking angrily among themselves. But when Jesus spoke, some of them became ashamed, and the others, seeing that the people supported Jesus, began to leave quietly. Most of the others, those who had not been selling, were listening with bowed heads. Jesus continued.  “This will not continue! This is a place of prayer and worship. You will not buy or sell or cheat or swindle here! Nor will you carry anything through here!” I could see, at the edge of the crowd, some who were carrying goods. When Jesus said this, they turned and began to go around. They clearly did not want Jesus to scatter their goods as well across the Temple floor.
            Jesus glanced around the crowd once more, gestured for us to join him, and began to clean the courtyard floor of what he had scattered. We began to help as well, some of us running to get brooms to sweep, and Judas took charge of gathering the coins, saying they would give it all to the poor. We continued working, but Jesus stood from his work and smiled when he saw a blind beggar carefully and reverently picking his way forward through the crowd. But it wasn’t just one beggar, I saw. It was all of them, all the beggars who made the temple their regular gathering place, [3] and they were all coming to see Jesus.
“Is Jesus still here?” the blind man asked, and Jesus himself answered him, with a touch to his eyes and a few words, and then the man opened his eyes, joy and surprise competing over his face. But before he could thank Jesus, Jesus had moved on to a lame man, dragging himself across the courtyard, and after that to another blind man. Jesus healed them all. It reminded me of one of our very first nights in Galilee, when all the cripples of the area had showed up on my doorstep. As then, Jesus healed all who came to him, and after there were no more to be healed, he taught until it was dark.

[1]This event taken from Matthew 21:12-14, Mark 11:15-19, and Luke 19:45-46.
[2] Lenski (Matthew 812) advises against conflating the cleansing of the temple recorded in John 2:13-22 with the cleansing recorded in Luke 19:45-47, Matthew 21:12-16, and Mark 11:15-18. Religious authorities challenge him in John’s narrative, but not in the synoptics. The wording and tone differs between John and the synoptics, and in John the words are Christ’s own, whereas in the synoptics he quotes scripture. MacArthur (Matthew16-23 267) and Hendriksen (Matthew 769) say the same. Given the weight of evidence and opinion, I have treated them as two separate events.
[3]MacArthur notes that the “diseased and crippled, most of whom were necessarily beggars, continually gathered at the temple” (Matthew 16-23, 271).

Monday, March 25, 2013

The First Day in Jerusalem

What follows is my account of the first few hours following the Triumphal Entry. They were not in Jerusalem very long before they left, but those few hours were very significant (especially to John).

We had not anticipated the crowd. They slowed our progress so much that it was already afternoon by the time we actually made it into the city. Jesus dismounted once he entered the city, and we left the donkey at the gates with a man whom Jesus had healed the last time he was in Jerusalem. Some of us left, either to see friends or family or just to look around Jerusalem again. I followed Jesus closely as he walked through the city, leading the way straight to the temple, but he stopped so suddenly at the entrance that I nearly bumped into him. He was stiff, breathing heavily, and I looked around him to see–nothing out of the ordinary. There was a constant flow of people entering and exiting the Temple, and the merchants selling sacrificial offerings only added to the chaos of the courtyard. It was so loud, with the crowds and the merchants and the animals, that you could hardly hear yourself think. I looked at Jesus’ face, and followed his gaze—he was looking at the money-changers and the merchants. Then I remembered the first time we had been in Jerusalem, and what Jesus had done then.[1] But he did nothing like that here—after a few tense moments, he turned around, and we followed.
We walked in silence and let the noise of the crowd, the music, the shouting, the laughter, wash over us. I wondered how Jesus could not be cheerful here, in Jerusalem, at Passover. I wanted to ask, but as always, I could not. He would tell me, once again, that he would die here, and leave me, once again, confused. Luckily, I soon saw Andrew pushing his way towards us through the crowd, with Philip next to him. I pointed them out to Jesus, and we waited for them—when they arrived, Andrew was the first to speak.
“Lord,” he said, bowing slightly, “Some Greeks sought us out, saying they wanted to meet you. Should we bring them here?”
I had been listening to him as he talked, and when he was done I turned back to Jesus. His face had fallen again, and he did not say anything. He stood there, head bowed, face sorrowful, in silence. I looked at Philip and Andrew—they looked back at me, puzzled. I leaned back slightly to look at John and James, on the other side of Jesus—they did not know what was happening either. I was about to break the silence, ask the question again—perhaps he had not heard the first time—when Jesus spoke.
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” he said, but there was something about the way he said “glorified” that made me shiver. It did not sound like a happy occasion. He looked up at us, as we all grouped together to be before him, and the noise of the crowd washed over us as we waited.
“Truly, I tell you, that unless a grain of wheat falls and dies, it remains alone; but if it does die, it bears much fruit.” He spoke so suddenly, so passionately, that a few of us jumped at his voice. Jesus was practically shaking—he was moving his hands as he talked, and he began to pace, his voice going sometimes faster, sometimes slower. But he would always look back to us, seeing if we understood. We did not—but neither could we say anything. He spoke on.
“Whoever loves his life must lose it—but whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Here his eyes came up, earnest and filled with pain, and my breath caught in my throat. Listen to me, his eyes said. “If anyone would serve me, he must follow me—and where I am, there my servant will be as well. And if anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”
He stopped pacing, stood still, head bowed once more, and the noise from the crowd filled the silence. More and more people were stopping to watch and listen to Jesus, and as they did they fell silent, as we were. We still could say nothing, could do nothing, either to comfort or respond. The question that had begun this talk was seemingly forgotten. After a short time, Jesus began again, lifting his head to look at us, and his voice was low and halting.
“Now I am troubled in my very soul,” he said. “What will I say? Will I call upon my Father and say, ‘Save me from this hour?’[2] But-” he raised his voice and threw up his hands, “But it is for this purpose that I have come to this hour! Father,” he cried, so loudly that almost everyone nearby stopped and turned towards him in surprise. “Glorify your name!”
And instantly there was the voice again, the voice we had heard on the mountain, loud, like thunder: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” And we fell to the ground, bowing, but before I did I saw Jesus smile, and when I looked up afterward he was standing straighter than he had been, shoulders back, head up towards heaven—it was as if he was basking in his Father’s voice.
We knew what we had heard. The crowd, though, the people around us, seemed to think it was thunder—some said it was an angel, but they had not understood the words. We had, but as we raised ourselves up, Jesus gave us no chance to question him, but spoke, loudly, to both us and everyone else listening to him.
“The voice has come for your sake, not mine,” he said. “Now is the judgment of this world: now will the ruler of this world be cast out! And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” The people did not like this. There was muttering, which quickly grew to shouting, and one, in the front, stepped forward and said, “The Law says that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man will be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” We looked at each other silently—we had some of the same questions. The Christ was supposed to remain forever. We knew that Jesus was the Christ. Why, then, did he always say that he would die here?
Jesus sighed and seemed to shrink. His face lost the glow it had had after the voice spoke from heaven. “The light is with you for a little while longer,” he said sadly, and the crowd grew quiet to hear him speak. “Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you.” As he spoke, he grew louder and more forceful. “He who walks in darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of the light!” And with that he turned, walking quickly through the streets towards the gate, and we followed. It was getting late, and without a word he led us back out of the city, through the gates, over the Mount of Olives, and back to Bethany. There were no more crowds, and the few stragglers still coming into the city did not even notice us.
We talked among ourselves as we walked, several paces behind Jesus. What had happened? The day had begun so well—the whole city had supported Jesus, and the Pharisees could do nothing to him. But it was as though Jesus did not even see any of it—or if he did see it, it only made him sadder. The city made him sad. The temple made him angry. What was supposed to be a celebration was, instead, only making Jesus more and more depressed. He did not say anything, even after we got back to Bethany. We ate in silence, and he went outside to pray, and we went to bed.

[1]Lenski (Matthew 812) advises against conflating the cleansing of the temple recorded in John 2:13-22 with the cleansing recorded in Luke 19:45-47, Matthew 21:12-16, and Mark 11:15-18. Religious authorities challenge him in John’s narrative, but not in the synoptics. The wording and tone differs between John and the synoptics, and in John the words are Christ’s own, whereas in the synoptics he quotes scripture. MacArthur (Matthew16-23 267) and Hendriksen (Matthew 769) say the same. Given the weight of evidence and opinion, I have treated them as two separate events.
[2]Scholarly opinion varies regarding this passage. Lenski (John) states that the “What shall I say?” of John 12:27 is continued in the next sentence: “(Shall I say) ‘Father, save me from this hour?”, with the implied answer of, “No, because this is what I came for.” (869). However, Hendriksen (John) sees the first (What shall I say) as a question and the second (Father, save me from this hour) as a direct request, (199) seeing it as analogous to the plea of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:39, Mark 14:36). The structure of the sentence, especially the “but” of the following sentence, leads me to accept Lenski’s interpretation over Hendriksen's. Christ is afraid of what is to come, and he certainly wishes that things could be otherwise: nonetheless, he remembers his purpose. He recognizes the possibility of calling to his Father, he may even be contemplating it: but he does no more than that, for he recognizes that to do so would be in direct contrast to what he knows his purpose to be.

As you follow Peter through the story we've all heard so many times, remember that to him and the rest of the disciples, there was no surety of the resurrection, no comfort in the promises of God--only mysterious words and incoherent outbreaks from the one they had staked their hopes and even their very lives on. They didn't understand, and indeed, coming from their background, it's hard to blame them.

If you enjoyed this, feel free to look at the second cleansing of the temple here.

Like this post? Check out the full work, Simon, Who Is Called Peter! It combines the readability of First-Person narration with biblical and scholarly accountability in the form of copious footnotes, allowing you to see the world of the New Testament through the eyes of Jesus' most notorious disciple.