John's Gospel

The Way It Happened

John 13:5, The Johannine Passover

After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

//I’ve mentioned in multiple posts how, in John’s Gospel, Jesus dies before the Passover, and thus does not share a Passover meal with his disciples. But this is not quite true. While Jesus does, indeed, die the afternoon before the Passover begins, there is still a Passover ritual of sorts. It’s just spiritual, not literal.

The setting of today’s verse seems to be a Johannine version of the “Last Supper,” which verse 15:1 explains occurs before the Passover. The Last Supper is not a Passover meal in this Gospel.

In John, Jesus interrupts the evening supper, his final meal with the apostles, to perform a foot-washing ritual. What’s interesting about this is that a ritual washing of hands is part of the Passover ceremony. One of the family members brings a water bowl and towel to each person, and pours water over their hands in purification. It occurs before the meal, not during, and Jesus has transposed this from hand-washing to foot-washing. But are we supposed to recognize the parallel to the Passover ritual? Let’s go on with the story.

John, the beloved disciple reclines on Jesus’ breast, just as the youngest member of the household often reclines on the leader of the Passover celebration. As the Passover appetizers are shared, this child begins to ask rehearsed questions, prompting the lesson of the Passover. In our case, Jesus has just shared with them the news that he would be betrayed. So, John, probably the youngest, asks questions. Verse 25: Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”

The Passover parallel continues. Shortly after the time of questions and the sharing of a cup of redemption, Matzah is dipped in bitter horseradish. According to revered first-century rabbi Hillel, enough of the bitter herb should be taken to bring tears to the eyes. Verse 26: Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon.

Immediately after this Passover ritual, one or more members are supposed to be dispatched to serve the meal: the Passover lamb. So, in verse 27: As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. “What you are about to do, do quickly,” Jesus told him.

Can you guess what happens next? Who the Passover lamb is? Aw, I think you already know.

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2 Comments

  1. Its fascinating isn’t it, how John’s account differs and sends the message.

    I’ve also heard that the washing of feet was Jesus breaking with the Passover tradition and indicating that the old covenant was fulfilled and finished: they were to have their feet shod, not their sandals off, for Passover.

    Any thoughts on that?

  2. :) Interesting, have never given that a thought!

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