Commentary on 1st Half of Good Friday Gospel: John 18

1st Half of Gospel for Good Friday  John 18

The Jesus of John’s passion is much more challenging to us.  In this gospel Jesus is the one in charge; he chooses his destiny.  It almost seems like he is arranging his own death.  In John Jesus carries the cross himself-this is his destiny and he chooses to walk to it.  Even on the cross, Jesus is in charge, attending to unexpected details-he places his mother and his beloved disciple into each other’s care.  Finally, it is Jesus who announces “It is finished.”

Why is it “Good” Friday?  Jesus showed us that suffering and death is not all there is.  Good Friday is more than a step to resurrection; it is a day on which we celebrate Jesus’ obedience, his kingship, the everlasting establishment of his reign, his side being opened and himself being poured out so that we can be washed in his very blood and water.  The real scandal of the cross isn’t suffering and death; the real scandal of the cross is that God is victorious in Christ’s obedience.  Death has no power over God  (Living Liturgy, 2004, p. 104).

When confronted with Christ’s suffering, it challenges us to understand why there is suffering.  There is suffering because…there just is.  Suffering does not earn our way to heaven.  Suffering does allow us to be transformed right now.  “…God’s compassionate love enters the pain of the world to transform it from within, “ (Johnson, She Who Is, p. 270).  We can allow the suffering to help us become better people, and that can be its “reward”.  Jesus was trying to explain how it was necessary for him to die so that they may be saved. “…pain can be embraced, not out of a desire to suffer, but in the knowledge that something new will be born in the pain, “ (Nouwen, Here and Now, p. 47).  There is a greater good at stake.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Only a suffering God can help.”  He wrote those words when in a Nazi prison.  He was hanged not long afterward because he spoke out in favor of the Jewish people.  Bonhoeffer wrote, “…to be in this furious storm even to exhaustion, even to vexation, even to the call of martyrdom for the Word of Christ, so that there will be peace, so that there will be love, so that there will be salvation, and so that he is our peace and that God is a God of peace, “ (Kelly & Nelson, p. 214).  Bonhoeffer knew that suffering could lead to peace; no one wants suffering, but there can be meaning in it.

Jurgen Moltmann says, “While his Son is dying on the cross, God the Father suffers too, but not in the same way.  The Father suffers the loss of his Son, experiencing infinite grief.  There is total separation between them; they are lost to each other.  At the same time, however, they have never been so close.  They are united in a deep community of will, each willing to do this for love of the world.  As a result, the Holy Spirit who is love, the Spirit of their mutual love, flows out into the broken, sinful world, “ (Johnson, Quest…), p. 61).  God was with Jesus the whole time, and suffered with him.  What is your feeling or insight about Jesus’ suffering and death?  What “death” have I experienced in my life – death of a loved one, an abrupt and painful change, having to let go of someone or something I cherished?

Commentary from The Daily Study Bible Series, William Barclay (p. 220-231):

The Arrest in the Garden

All the Passover lambs were killed in the temple, and the blood of the lambs was poured on the altar as an offering to God (estimated 256,000!)  Imagine what the Temple courts would have looked like with all of that blood.  From the altar, a channel went down to the brook Kedron to drain the blood of the lambs.  When Jesus crossed, the brook would have still been red with the blood.  This must have made him think of his own sacrifice.  As they continued walking, they came to the Mount of Olives where the Garden of Gethsemane (meaning oil-press…consider the imagery!) was located.  It would have been a private garden of a wealthy landowner.  Jesus must have been given a key to it to visit it frequently.

The officers would be Temple police, and the text suggests there was quite a number of them, almost an army.  Imagine that many needed for an unarmed Galilean carpenter?!  Why do you think they sent so many?

See how brave Jesus is?  He doesn’t hide behind the trees but comes right out and asks who the soldiers are looking for.  They seem dumbfounded that it is him because he is so forthcoming.  He seems stronger than they are.  Peter is brave too, to cut the ear of the slave despite the army opposing him.

Jesus Before Annas

The High priest was the arch-collaborator of the Romans.  The family of Annas was immensely rich and one-by-one they had intrigued and bribed their way into office, while Annas remained the power behind it all.  Even the way in which Annas made his money was most probably disgraceful.  Because sacrifices made in the temple needed to be perfect, only those sold in the temple would be accepted as such (which of course was controlled by Annas and cost significantly more than those outside of it).  These are the same moneychangers Jesus kicked out of the temple.  Now we see why Annas wanted to see Jesus himself.  Jesus had hit him where it hurt-his pocket!

Maimonides, a great Jewish medieval scholar, says, “Our true law does not inflict the penalty of death upon a sinner by his own confession.”  Annas violated the principles of Jewish justice when he questioned Jesus.  It is precisely of this that Jesus was only reminding him.  But the writing was on the wall.  Jesus never had any hope for justice.

The Hero and the Coward

It is a mystery who the disciple is that goes into the courtyard with Jesus and knows the high priest somehow.  Note that he and Peter are the only diciples that stay; the rest run away.  Maybe Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathaea.  Maybe John himself, whose father most likely sold salt fish to the high priest and then he delivered it.  By not knowing for sure, it does allow us as readers to enter into the story.

It is interesting that a cock crowed because cocks weren’t allowed in Jerusalem (although who knows if that rule was followed).  How can you know when a cock will crow anyway?  But the Romans had a practice of changing the guards every 3 hours at night  (6pm-9pm, 9pm-12am, 12am-3am, 3am-6am).  There would be a trumpet call at the change (gallicinium in Latin or alektorophōnia in Greek), which both mean cockcrow.  Maybe this is what Jesus meant and Peter remembered.

Peter loved Jesus.  It was the real Peter that professed his loyalty in the upper room, drew his sword in the garden and followed Jesus into the courtyard.  It was not the real Peter who cracked beneath the tension and denied the Lord.  And that is just what Jesus could see.  Jesus sees our true self.  He loves us in spite of what we do because he loves us, not for what we are, but what we have it in us to be.

Jesus and Pilate

The Romans had allowed a good deal of self-government, but they did not have the right of the sword (death penalty).  “The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterwards the hands of all the people,” (Deuteronomy 17:7) is the word of Jesus that is fulfilled.  Jesus had to die a Roman death, because he had to be lifted up.  If the Jews had been able to kill him themselves, it would have been a stoning (Leviticus 24:16).

It is clear why Pilate acted as he did.  The Jews blackmailed him into crucifying Jesus.  He had screwed up once before and been reported to Caesar.  The Jews threatened to tell Caesar that he wouldn’t help them.  If he gets reported again, he may lose his job and power.  He is looking out for himself.  He crucified Jesus in order to keep his job.  But let’s look at his decision-making more closely:

  1. He tries to put the responsibility on the Jews:  No one can deal with Jesus for us; we must deal with him ourselves.
  2. He tries to escape being involved by releasing a prisoner:  There is no escape from a personal decision in regard to Jesus; we must ourselves decide if we accept or reject him…

We will take up the rest next week!

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One response

  1. Thanks…… very comforting and challenging as we approach the coming week. Been reading John….. yes, he surely brings us a “different Jesus” in many ways. So grateful for all the “gospel makers”… including you!

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