Lectionary Commentaries for April 14, 2022
Commentary on John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Commentary on Exodus 12:1-4 [5-10] 11-14
“This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you” (Exodus 12:2).
This is how the narrator of Exodus 12 begins the description of the Passover event. It is a new beginning for God’s people. A defining moment for the nation of Israel. No longer slaves in Egypt, they are now people marked by the blood of the lamb, rescued, redeemed, and claimed as God’s own. And every year, beginning with that first Passover, Israel was to celebrate it at the start of the year as a festival to the Lord, a festival that served to remind them again of who and whose they were.
The liturgical quality of the narrative points to its sacramental nature. Exodus 12 does not simply tell of a moment in history, but provides the script for an event that would be rehearsed and re-enacted yearly (verse 14). The Passover was to become part of the natural rhythms of Israel’s life together and life with God, an annual commemoration and celebration of God’s redemptive grace to Israel.
At the center of this sacramental narrative is the blood, a sign and seal of God’s steadfast love and covenant commitment to the Hebrew people. A common perception is that the blood was a marker for the angel of death to know which houses to pass over. However, this text describes the blood as a sign for the people (verse 13). Blood, in the ancient near east, was sacred and signified the life or life-force of living creatures, making it an apt sign and symbol here. Painting the blood on the doorposts becomes the act by which the people receive and accept God’s gracious promise for life in the face of death and darkness, signaling their acceptance of God’s redemptive act.
In addition to this sacramental quality of the Passover event described here, a number of additional features are worth noting. First, as the narrator describes the feast of the lamb, a concern is expressed about the appropriate number of people gathered (verse 4). The focus of the narrator’s comments, however, are not on whether there will be enough of the sacrificed lamb to go around, but on whether there will be too much, that is, whether there will be enough people gathered around the table to partake in the feast. The comment suggests two things. One, the expectation that the entire lamb be consumed and that there be nothing left remaining. The sacrificial and sacramental meal is not to be saved until morning or taken with them.
This is no ordinary meal as Israel prepares to leave Egypt. It is sacred and special and belongs to a moment that marks a new beginning in their life with God, a God who has heard their cries and responded with love and compassion. Two, there is an unmistakable insistence that more people be gathered in, that the table be enlarged, that God’s grace not be limited to a few but that it is big enough and great enough to cover all who are ready to receive it.
One last feature of this text is worth noting—the people are to eat in haste, with their cloaks tucked into their belts and their sandals on their feet.The narrator presents the Passover celebration as a prologue to what lies ahead and as such, it functions to focus the attention of the people on what God is going to do next. It draws the Israelites’ gaze to the future, fostering a sense of curiosity, wonder, and hope about their life with God beyond Egypt. Egypt is their past but it is not their future. Weeping is but for a night but joy will come in the morning (Psalm 30:5).
Today, as we commemorate Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, the breaking of bread and the pouring out of the wine, the fellowship they shared in anticipation of Jesus’ darkest moment when death overtook him, we also need the reminder that our weeping is for a night but joy will come in the morning. Like the Passover, the Lord’s Supper is a sign and seal of God’s covenant promises, that through Christ’s death, we are rescued, redeemed, and claimed by God as God’s own.
As Christians, this sacramental meal marks our new beginning. Against the backdrop of death, Christ’s death, through a mystery that we cannot fully understand, we have life. Thus, while we weep over Christ’s suffering and death and our sin and shame for which he died, this commemoration also invites us to look ahead with curiosity, wonder, and hope, about our life with God as new creations. Death is not the end, but the beginning of something new. For Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!
Commentary on Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19
Paul O. Myhre
Conversations are part of human experience. Verbal and non-verbal communication begins even before we take our first breath and occurs long after we’ve breathed our last. Conversations move among us, through us, and within us and even happen while we are sleeping.
Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is a place of conversation about our thoughts with our own thoughts. It is the place of dreams where imaginations are free to fly, swim, run, walk, and even gain super identities or live as if in virtual space. WebMD claims, “You can have intense dreams during REM sleep, since your brain is more active. REM is important because it stimulates the areas of the brain that help with learning and is associated with increased production of proteins”.1 Equally important is non-REM sleep since it is the place where bodies rest and repair themselves. A different type of communication is happening within. WebMD further asserts, “During the deep stages of NREM sleep, the body repairs and regrows tissues, builds bone and muscle, and strengthens the immune system”. Deep sleep is often a place of molecular and cellular communication. It is also a place where one’s own anxieties and fears may be faced.
Our bodies communicate within us and with others each day of our existence. Even in the solitude of desert landscapes and wilderness places our bodies are communicating and interacting with the physical and spiritual. People of faith contend that ways of communication are not limited to the observable world. They involve spiritual, physical, and emotional communication with that which is most true in all three spheres. Some cultures claim communication may occur with sacred beings or entities, with ancestors who have died, and with the created world itself.
Psalm 116 invites those who sing its poetic lines to move into places where perspectives, about what is and is not, are broadened, deepened, and expanded. The writer affirms that God hears the voice of those who cry out and are in need. The writer’s theology moves with a certainty that God is present in the moments when we need God most and present in moments imperceptible to human vision or awareness. Perhaps it is something like oxygen that flows into our bodies through our nostrils, throat, and lungs. Most of the time we are unaware of the movement happening, and if we are aware of the movement, it is unlikely that we can feel the oxygen molecules passing through our lung membranes into our bloodstream and flowing through us. In the same way, we don’t recognize the carbon dioxide molecules being expelled by our lungs through our throat and nostrils.
The mystery of life bound up in respiration and the transfer of molecules within us happens every day of our existence and most of the time we are unaware of it or of what it is doing within us and for our wellbeing. Polluted air, or any air for that matter, carries carcinogens, viruses, and various toxins that may be initially imperceptible to us, yet over time can have debilitating consequences that may even cause our demise. God’s presence is ubiquitous, and it is this presence that gives life and life abundant.
The question of God’s goodness and gracious gifts permeates the lines of Psalm 116 and invites us to see farther and deeper into the magnitude of God’s gifts to the world. Oxygen for breathing. Light for seeing. Sound waves, voices, and music for hearing. Touch for feeling textures, surfaces, and shapes. Taste to explore a range of flavors that abound on the created world. It is as if the Psalm writer is invoking people to remember that God loves the diversity of the senses and of the planet which God has created and invites everyone to experience the vast wonder and beauty of it all. With recognition of the vastness of blessings discerned, a spirit of thanksgiving ensues.
The practice of thankfulness is something that gets better with observation and practice. When my daughters were young, my wife and I practiced with them a daily ritual over dinner or before bedtime of thankfulness for what they had experienced that day. We would take turns naming three things for which we were thankful. As one can imagine, the answers covered a wide range of topics and words of thanks to God for the gifts we had received. Sometimes coming up with three things was difficult. However, I cannot remember an occasion in which three things were not named. It was a simple spiritual practice that helped put things in perspective for each of us as we traveled through our respective worlds and it prompted a sense of wellbeing.
Thanksgiving to God for all that God has done, is doing, and will do can stimulate deeper relationship with the living God and prompt desires for doing that which aligns with the law of God and the aims of God for what makes a life worth living and what brings about a deeper sense of human flourishing.
The declarations of the Psalmist affirm an ongoing relationship with a God who is both beyond knowing and, at the same time, is closer to us than breathing. The writer claims, “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD. I will fulfill my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people. I will sacrifice a thank offering and call on the name of the LORD. I serve you just as my mother did. I will fulfill my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people.” The faith conviction of the writer sings of a relationship with God that involves all of one’s existence and invites a communal understanding of that relationship.
The cup of salvation is echoed in the New Testament and finds expression in Christian congregations with the celebration of the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper. It is at its core a declaration that salvation comes to people as a gift of God. The Psalmist notion of lifting this cup of salvation suggests a ritual action associated with thanking God. It is unclear, however, about how and in which season it happened, and at what point in a ritual of thanks it occurred. It resonates with the commemoration of Passover and yet, it cannot be definitively tied to it. Although we cannot declare with certainty a specific Jewish ritual association, we can see it as a literal or figurative act that asserts an awareness of a God who is intimately concerned about the wellbeing of people. It declares a faith recognition in a God who fills the cup with the possibility of salvation as being the same God who preserves life and gives hope and life meaning. For this, there is thanksgiving.
Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
On Maundy Thursday, we commemorate Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist during his last meal with his disciples before his death. As told in the Gospels, this meal took place during the Jewish feast of Passover and right after a disciple had betrayed Jesus to high priests who were plotting to kill him.1 Paul’s comments on this meal provide yet another angle on its significance.
Handing on what we have received
As he repeats in this passage what had been passed on to him from traditions around Jesus, Paul addresses a problem within the Corinthian congregation.2 When they would meet as a congregation, they would have a meal together that combined a community meal with their observance of Jesus’ last supper. It appears, however, that poorer members in the congregation, who probably came later to this meal because of their work, would have to leave these meals hungry because the richer members, who had come earlier, had already eaten most of the food. In light of this, Paul admonishes the Corinthians to examine themselves, warning those who “eat and drink without discerning the body” that they “eat and drink” judgment on themselves (11:29). This reference to “discerning the body” has a double reference—it refers both to the Messiah’s body and to the body of the congregation itself, which is assembled in him (12:12-31).
This double meaning of “body” helps us understand how Paul plays on a double meaning when speaking about transmitting to the Corinthians what he himself has received (11:12). The word he uses for “hand on” (paradidōmi) was also used to depict Judas’ betrayal of Jesus (Mark 14:10) and God’s handing over of Jesus to his death (Romans 4:25). Analogously, Paul says that we are daily “handed over” to death, so that we can “manifest” the life of Jesus throughout whatever is taking place in our lives (2 Corinthians 4:10-11). Indeed, Paul presents his own apostolic ministry— and the Christian life in general—as a sharing in the Messiah’s sufferings and consolations (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). Thus, what we transmit when we “pass on” what we have received is a reality—Jesus’ death and life—that takes place precisely as we ourselves share in his distinctive mode of death and life, as Paul says, “death in me, life for you” (2 Corinthians 4:12).
Sharing the bread and cup
What, then, do we transmit to one another when we celebrate the Eucharist? Earlier in the letter, Paul speaks of the Lord’s Supper as a “sharing” in the one “bread” of which we partake (Christ’s body), a sustenance that, in turn, makes “many” into “one body” (10:17). As Martin Luther observed, such communion and sharing in a common life—that is, our common life with Christ and with one another—leads us to the practices not only of forgiving and consoling one another, but also of sharing in our wealth and poverty with one another.3
What do we drink when we drink from the same “cup”? In Scripture, “cup” signifies not only a vessel for drinking but also one’s death and ultimate destiny, whether good or bad. For example, in a conversation predicting his suffering and death, Jesus asks his disciples—who are competing for privileged status in the coming age—whether they are able to drink his “cup” of suffering and be baptized with the same baptism (in other words, destiny) to which he has been baptized.4
“Cup” is further defined in this passage as the cup of the “new covenant,” a theme Paul develops in Second Corinthians where he speaks about how the “Spirit of the living God” will write the law on “fleshy hearts” and not on “tablets of stone.”5 This idea of the new covenant, which Luke also speaks of in his account of the Lord’s Supper, is drawn from Jeremiah’s portrayal of the new covenant the Lord will make with the people of Israel—when the law will be found within them, written on their hearts, and God will be their God, and they will be God’s people. On that day, all people will indeed, “know the Lord”—from the least to the greatest—because God will be merciful on their unrighteousness and remember their sin no more (Jeremiah 31:34).
Proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes
Lastly, what does Paul mean when he concludes by saying that whenever we eat this bread and drink the cup, we “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (11:26)? With this concluding reference to the Lord’s death, Paul spotlights the eschatological character of the Eucharist—that it is an anticipation of the future the Messiah’s death and resurrection ushers in, a future that is yet come but which we can anticipate even now through the “pledge” of the Spirit within and among us (2 Corinthians 1:22, 5:5).
Paradoxically, it is through death that we anticipate this future in our lives in the present. Such anticipation takes place when we die to or no longer live out of the dysfunctional patterns that keep us hooked, as individuals and communities, within cycles of sin and injustice, and the destruction they bring about in our lives.
Thus, what the Eucharist symbolizes and enacts is that wherever there is death, sin, and injustice, the Messiah Jesus, crucified and raised from the dead, is creating new life and righteousness within and among us. When we eat and drink at this Lord’s Supper, what we enact within the present is a future that recreates the past we have inherited or created—a future, as signified by biblical visions of an eschatological banquet, that brings us into harmony with one another and the social and natural worlds to which we belong.
- See Mark 14:22-25; cf. Matt 26:26-29 and Luke 22:15.20.
- See 1 Cor 11:17-22, 27-33.
- Luther, Martin. “The Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ, and the Brotherhoods” (1519), in Luther’s Works, vol. 35, 47-67.
- See, e.g., Mark 10:38.
- 2 Cor 3:6; see also 3:3, which draws on Jer 31:33 and Ezek 11:19; 36:26.
This is not only a story about what Jesus knew (that “his hour had come”), it is also—and, perhaps, more importantly—about Jesus’ love (13:1). Did Jesus’ knowledge or his love drive his action? Wasn’t it both? Despite the presence (and action) of “love,” the first part of the lectionary passage is framed by “knowledge” (see 13:1 and 13:7).
The fourth Gospel not only opens with the Passover in the air, it also opens with Jesus’ knowledge of his forthcoming death (13:1). In addition to knowing that “his hour had come,” Jesus also knows that he will return to his “Father” (13:1, 3) and that God had “given all things” to him (13:3). Juxtaposed with the description of Jesus—as a person of knowledge and love—stands Judas whom the devil has influenced (13:2). Just as Judas was prominent in the earlier “foot-washing” scene (12:1-8), so his upcoming betrayal lingers in the background of this scene.
Jesus’ knowledge was not shared by others—including Peter (13:7)—but his self-awareness allowed him to commit to the subservient gesture of washing the feet of his disciples. This scene may serve as a narrative example of the Philippians 2 hymn that Paul preserved (Philippians 2:6-7): “who, though he was in the form of God … emptied himself, taking the form of a slave … ” Striking is how the fourth Gospel emphasizes Jesus’ “knowledge” about himself as a precursor to what he was about to do—perform the act of an enslaved person (13:5).
Indeed, the enslaved commonly performed the service of washing feet whenever guests arrived at their masters’ homes. Since their own “master” (kurios) was initiating this practice, Christ-followers should repeat Jesus’ “slave” performance of foot-washing since “slaves are not greater than their master” (13:16). How representative this practice was in the early church is unclear, since there is little evidence for the practice elsewhere in the early Christian (New Testament) documents. Those “slaves” who perform this servile activity on behalf of others would be considered “friends” because “the slave,” on the other hand, “does not know what the master is doing” (John 15:15).
The interruption of religious practices within the community—as Peter does in this scene—is often a time to think more deeply about the symbolic practices of the community. On the one hand, it is easy to blame the interrupter, but sometimes the disruption originates from a deep inquisitive spirit, a longing desire to know more, a practical wisdom to assist the faithful, a desire to be relevant, and a longing for something more contemporary. So, we should not be so harsh on Peter. As the Gospel of John depicts, Peter apparently raised his concern from an attentive acknowledgment of his social position. He knew that the activity Jesus performed, the enslaved generally performed. Furthermore, if nothing else, he knew that he should perform this act on Jesus not the other way around. Nonetheless, he apparently misunderstood the moment. The reality in which he found himself was one in which Jesus—knowingly and lovingly—acted to express that love for his close followers. And, Peter did not quite have all of the necessary information to make his case.
On the other hand, once Peter determines how much he has misunderstood, he moves to the other extreme—“wash my whole body, Lord!” He wanted to make the symbolic practice something it was not meant to be. He wanted to use this practice for another function, another objective, another way of being in the world, making another kind of statement. That is, he wanted to make a public (even political!) claim with this symbolic practice. He didn’t want the practice withheld; he wanted Jesus to put a more significant, public mark upon him that Jesus had not intended to do. Sometimes the rituals of the church—When should baptism occur? Who can receive the Eucharist?—are used for other purposes, that is, to exclude and isolate rather than to include and invite into community. Jesus’ response is simple but direct: “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand” (13:7).
As a side-note, the fourth Gospel did not portray Peter as the “ideal” disciple; rather, the “beloved” one is depicted in that way (13:23-24; 21:20-22), even though Peter drives the narrative, the storyline, which allows the audience to hear their questions in his voice. Also, key information from John 13 is excluded from the lectionary selection, Peter’s further misunderstanding about the meaning of the symbolic washing (13:8-11), Jesus’s insistence that the practice (of foot-washing?) continue (13:12-17), and, finally, a description of Satan’s “entrance” into the betrayer’s heart (13:18-30).
Perhaps, most crucial—as we return to 13:31 in the lectionary selection—is information for understanding the meaning of “glorification” of the “Son of Man,” especially since the death (=glorification) is still forthcoming in John. In the missing section, once Judas receives the bread, Satan “entered into him” (13:27) in order to initiate the betrayal, which will lead to Jesus’ death—and, in the parlance of the fourth Gospel, the Son of Man’s glorification (in other words, death and ascension to his original position next to God—12:16, 23, 28; 17:1, 4, 24).
The larger lectionary selection not only relays what Jesus knew, but also emphasizes Jesus’ love (13:1 and 13:35). Jesus’ knowledge clearly drives his action, but he expects love to drive the action of his followers: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (13:35). Within the confines of chapter 13, the experience of love is expressed most prominently in the practice of washing the feet of others (13:14-15).
It is not only about what Christ-followers know, but what Christ-followers love. Or, to put it another way, it is not about what you do with the knowledge you have, but what you do with the love you have. If nothing else, Jesus’ symbolic practice ought to remind Christ-followers to link the sacred traditions of the church to love and vice versa. The sacred practices—such as physically washing another person’s feet—is not only humbling but also intimate, restorative, and symbolic of our expression of love for others within the community, and, perhaps, moving beyond the fourth Gospel, this practice could symbolize love for those outside the community.