March 10, 2006

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus in the Gospels: His last discourses

See John, Chapters 14-17

The three Synoptic Gospels tell us that Jesus and his disciples left the room of the Last Supper after Jesus foretold that Peter would deny knowing him. But John’s Gospel devotes four whole chapters to Jesus’ final discourses, presumably delivered during the Last Supper. It seems probable that the evangelist brought together in those chapters things that Jesus had said previously, and put them here as Jesus’ farewell message to his Apostles.

The chapters don’t even run smoothly. At the end of Chapter 14, Jesus says, “Get up, let us go,” but then Chapter 15 continues the discourse, and they don’t go out to the garden of Gethsemane until Chapter 18.

We should rejoice that the authors of John’s Gospel were inspired to include these chapters in this Gospel because they contain Jesus’ teachings about the Trinity. He was about to redeem the world through his death then send the Holy Spirit, and neither the redemption nor the sending can be understood without a knowledge of the Trinity.

“I am the way and the truth and the life,” Jesus said. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” He continued, “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” He was telling his disciples that he and the Father are one, that he was God.

He also made it plain that he was about to leave them, and he knew that they would be desolate about that: “Because I told you this, grief has filled your hearts.” However, he told them, after he leaves he will send them “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit” who “will guide you to all truth.”

Chapter 15 begins with the “vine and the branches” analogy in which Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” In the Old Testament, Israel is frequently referred to as a vineyard and as a vine, and here Jesus identified himself as “the true vine.” A vine is a living thing, while branches are living only as long as they are attached to the vine. The lesson is obvious.

Chapter 17 contains what is called Jesus’ “high priestly prayer.” He prayed to his Father as though he were no longer in the world, as though his mission was completed. He prayed for his disciples, but in the past tense: “When I was with them, I protected them in your name that you gave me.”

Now, however, he said that he was leaving them. He was sent by the Father—and he was now about to return to the Father—so he prayed that God would continue to protect them, knowing, of course, that they would also suffer for him.

He also prayed for future disciples: “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.”

Having done all he could to prepare his disciples for what was about to happen, Jesus was now ready to face his passion and death. †



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