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Into the Night

John 13:1-35

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table,[a] took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet,[b] but is entirely clean. And you[c]are clean, though not all of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants[d] are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. 18 I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But it is to fulfill the scripture, ‘The one who ate my bread[e] has lifted his heel against me.’ 19 I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am he.[f]20 Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.”

21 After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. 23 One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; 24 Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25 So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.”[g] So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot.[h] 27 After he received the piece of bread,[i] Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” 28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29 Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. 30 So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him,[j] God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”


Good evening. On Sunday, we got to revel in the glory of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Then I asked a tough question: Are we willing to walk with Jesus through the rest of Holy Week? Are we willing to accompany Jesus on the uncomfortable parts of the journey? Or are we only here for the glory, laud, and honor of Palm Sunday and the joy of Easter?

You’re all here tonight, so I think it’s safe to say that you’re not a bunch of religious tourists. You’re at least willing to entertain the idea of walking with Jesus during the uncomfortable parts of the journey. And it’s not like I’m asking any of you to wash anyone’s feet. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee you that I will never say to the Worship Commission, “Hey, do you want to do a foot-washing service on Maundy Thursday this year?”

I’m not gonna say it’ll never happen; I’m just saying I’ll never be the one to initiate the conversation. It’s a bit outside of my comfort zone and I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that way. Yes, I believe we’re called to follow Jesus into uncomfortable places, but as uncomfortable places go, I think there are other places that bring us into a closer relationship with God—places other than confronting our discomfort over washing out feet and the feet of others.

The Lectionary only calls for part of this story tonight. It begins with the story of the foot washing, but after verse 17, the Lectionary skips over verses 18 through 30, which go into greater detail about Judas’ betrayal. This is the uncomfortable territory I want to explore tonight.

What I find so very interesting about this part of the story is that, except for Judas, the rest of the disciples don’t really understand what’s going on. They’ve just heard Jesus tell them that one of the twelve will betray him, but they seem oblivious to the details. They all know that the religious authorities are angry with Jesus; they all know that the Roman Empire will exert its might any way it can. And they probably understand that Jesus presents a challenge to both the empire and the religious authorities, so if one of them is to betray

Jesus, that act of betrayal will force a confrontation. But the disciples don’t seem interested in parsing this out. They don’t want to face the question of what they’ll do without the presence of the human Jesus in the world.

In any gospel story, the disciples are stand-ins for us. They represent all of our responses to Jesus. And they’re just as uncomfortable with this part of the story as we are. They’re only human. We’re only human. Our doubt and our discomfort are simply a part of our human nature. And we are more than just religious tourists. I’ve been thinking a lot about religious tourism since Palm Sunday.

In her excellent book, Everything Happens for a Reason (and Other Lies I’ve Loved), the religious scholar Kate Bowler offers a story about a Christian theme park called the Holy Land Experience. The park is owned by the televangelists Jan and Paul Crouch. According to Bowler, the park is “devoted to retelling the life of Jesus—if Jesus had lived in Orlando, Florida.”[1]

When Bowler visited, guests could attend a performance of the Sermon on the Mount at 10:45 A.M. The crucifixion was presented at 3:00 in the afternoon, and the resurrection began precisely at 4:00.[2] Clearly, there was no time for reflection or introspection. I guess that’s for after the show.

It’s easy to mock the religious tourists who seek this sort of spectacle. It’s also easy to blame Judas for the betrayal of Jesus. It’s easy to say, “sure pastor, the disciples are us, but I ain’t no Judas,” forgetting that Peter will also deny Jesus after Jesus is arrested. We’re all in this story somewhere, and the Gospel of John is never that simple.

The Gospel of John is the gospel of relationship. It shows the disciples in a direct relationship with God, through the physical presence of Jesus, the Word of God made flesh. And in this story tonight, they’re not quite ready to let go of Jesus; they don’t quite get that Jesus is equipping them for life without Jesus in the world, for their ministry after the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension.

Judas was never truly in relationship with Jesus. He never had complete faith in Jesus or the signs of the inbreaking of the kingdom of God. For this reason, he was never able to truly abide in Jesus, to dwell in the presence of the Word of God made flesh. Judas’ betrayal of Jesus was a failure of relationship.

In the Gospel of John, “light and darkness symbolize states of believing and unbelief.”[3] The Gospel writer makes a point of telling us that Judas leaves Jesus and the rest of the disciples at night. At that moment, he exits his relationship with Jesus. A few hours later, Peter will also deny that he is a follower of Jesus—he will deny his relationship with Jesus.

Yet Peter will return; Peter will build the Church.

We all journey into the dark sometimes. When we leave this sanctuary tonight, we will all have to go out into the night. There will always be betrayals. We all fall short. We all fall out of relationship with God from time to time. Jesus tells us the way to step back into that relationship: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Remember this as you step out into the night. And remember this as you encounter religious tourists along the journey. Thanks be to God. Amen!

[1] Kate Bowler, Everything Happens for a Reason (And Other Lies I’ve Loved). New York: Random House (2018), p. 152.

[2] Bowler, p. 152.

[3] Karoline Lewis. John: Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries. Minneapolis: Fortress Press (2014), p. 46.

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