Today’s reflection comes from John 13 (the daily Bible reading format I am following this year involves readings from both testaments each day), the beginning of what is typically referred to as Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse”—teachings from John 13-17 that Jesus delivers to His disciples on the night that He was betrayed.
The content of John 13 is introduced to us in verse 1 with these interesting words: “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.”
Jesus knows He is about to die, and with this knowledge in mind, how does He spend His last evening? He chooses to spend it with “His own”, the disciples He had led and lived with for years, whom He loved. This seems straightforward enough, right? If you knew that you were about to die, I suspect that you would want to spend your remaining time with those you love. I would too.
But there is more to the story. John 13 is all about love, and the introductory verse we just read sets us up to examine the love that Jesus shows for His disciples compared to their response to Him.
The Chapter looks something like this, in outline form:
13:1: Jesus loved His own to the end (Summary Statement)
13:2-20: Jesus shows His love by washing the disciples’ feet (Exemplary Love of Jesus)
13:21-30: Jesus predicts the betrayal by Judas (Disciples’ failure to love)
13:31-35: Jesus encourages the disciples to love like He has loved them. (Exemplary love of Jesus)
13:36-38: Jesus predicts the denial by Peter (Disciples Failure to Love)
With this outline in mind, the last night of Jesus becomes remarkable rather than straightforward. Jesus spends His last night washing the feet of those who will betray, deny, and desert Him hours later. He knows that this will happen, and this is still how He chooses to spend His last evening: loving those who will fail to love Him.
If you knew you were about to die, is this what you would do? Neither would I.
As I look around in the world in which we live, I see a desperate need for love. I witness all sorts of people cutting off ties and cancelling relationships with “their own”—family members, longtime friends, brothers and sisters in Christ—rather than “loving them to the end.”
I think we find God’s answer to the bitter division and rancor of our times in this text and the example of Jesus: we are to love as Christ has loved us. Jesus loved His disciples even when He knew they would fail to love Him in return. He loves us even when we forsake Him. And He calls us to love in the same way. In a society that normalizes and encourages the dissolution of relationships when we disagree over a whole host of issues, Jesus offers—commands, actually—another way.
It is not easy, but it is clear: “He loved them until the end.”