Lectionary Year A
March 28, 2002
John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Step III: Composition

A. Immediate Context

(JW)The passages before and after this pericope are of importance. They both deal with the issue of people rejecting Jesus. John 12:37 reads, "Though he had done so many signs before them, yet they did not believe in him" (RSV) speaking of some of the Jews. Then in verse 42 and 43 it says that many believed in him, but would not acknowledge it, confess it, because "they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God" (RSV). Jesus goes on to speak to them that when they reject him they are really rejecting the Father.
The passage directly after this pericope deals with an even more personal rejection. John 13:18-30 deal with Judas' departure from the Lord under the influence of Satan. This is very curious in relation to verses 1-17 because it provokes the question of how Judas might have received the footwashing experience. Although 13:2 tells us that the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas to betray Jesus, could the disgraceful act of footwashing been too much for him to bear. Could Judas have been so sickened by the sight of the man whom he had thought was the Messiah of God washing his disciples feet that he could no longer stand it? If Simon Peter had been so embarrassed and confused by this act, how might Judas have felt? Is this what pushes Judas over the edge?

B. Organization of the Compositional Whole

1:1-34 Introduction and baptism
1:35-11:46 Jesus public ministry of teaching, signs, and sayings; Jesus' following and the controversy surrounding him continue to escalate up to the resurrection of Lazarus.
11:47-57 Priests and Pharisees decide that Jesus must die; plot for handing over of Jesus at the Passover feast
12:1-50 Jesus goes to Jerusalem for Passover, predicts his death, final proclamation to public prior to his death.
13:1-17:26 Jesus' final evening with his disciples; footwashing, Lord's Supper, teaching, prayer
18:1-19:42 Jesus' betrayal; trial; crucifixion; burial
20:1-22:25 Jesus' resurrection and appearances

In the outline of the book of John that is given in The Living Insights Study Bible (general editor, Charles Swindoll), there are a few interesting distinctions that are pointed out that were not specifically pointed out in my own outline. The distinctions that I found the most helpful involve drawing attention to the differences between John 1-12 and John 13-21. One of these is that the first twelve chapters take place over a span of around three years while the last nine chapters take place over a span of only several days. Swindoll also points out that in the first twelve chapters Jesus' message had mainly been proclaimed in the public arena. Beginning with John 13, Jesus' message is more private and among those who were his closest followers.
If chapter 13 is seen as lying on the axis of these two larger sections, it is of significance that Jesus begins by showing humility and love through the act of washing his disciples' feet. This could imply the deep personal love that he wanted to express toward them, which would lay the ground work for the long discourse that was to come.

C. Issues of Authorship

(JW)In John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7, and 21:20, the author speaks of "the disciple whom Jesus loved." In 21:24, the author identifies himself as this disciple. John 13:23 says that this disciple was "lying close to the breast of Jesus" (RSV) just after the time of the footwashing. This at least indicates that the author was present at the footwashing and also that he would have received the footwashing as well. Verse 19:26 states that Jesus entrusted his mother Mary to the author of this book as he hung on the cross.
From reading this book, one gathers that the author really had a close personal relationship with the man Jesus Christ. One also gathers that the author really felt that he was loved intensely by Jesus. This adds mystery and weight to 13:1 in that the author felt that this footwashing experience was an incredible and surpassing demonstration of this love of Jesus for "his own."
John 13:23 is the first time that reference is made to the disciple "whom Jesus loved." It is possible that this experience is what caused the author to understand more fully just how much he was loved by Jesus.

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