Fathers Nolan’s and Brown’s Commentary on John 13:21-33, 36-38

Text in red are my additions.

Joh 13:21  When Jesus had said these things, he was troubled in spirit; and he testified, and said: Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you shall betray me.

He was troubled in spirit. As we said above on John 11:23, this perturbation of soul was freely permitted by Christ. The disclosure of the traitor had been begun earlier in the night. It is recorded more or less fully by the four Evangelists, but in such a manner as to render it extremely probable that Christ returned to the subject several times during the night. St. Matthew 26:21-25, and St. Mark 14:18-21 record the allusion to the traitor, immediately before the institution of the Blessed Eucharist. St. Luke, on the other hand, records it immediately after the same event: “This is the chalice, the New Testament, in my blood, which shall be shed for you. But yet behold, the hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table” (Luke 22:20-21). St. John does not refer, at least explicitly, to the institution of the Blessed Eucharist; but in his narrative the treachery of Judas is at first insinuated during the washing of tne feet (verse 10) , again alluded to in verse 18; and, finally, clearly foretold in verse 26. We can best reconcile all the Evangelists by holding that, in the hope of deterrng, Judas from his awful purpose, our Lord returned several times to the same subject: first, during the washing of the feet, as in St. John; then before the institution of the Blessed Eucharist, as in SS. Matthew and Mark; then, immediately after the institution, as in St. Luke; and finally, when the dipped bread was handed to the traitor, and he  left the room, as in St John.

No doubt it would be difficult to admit this supposition if the words in question (the words of the Synoptic Evangelists) contained, as seems generally to be taken for granted, a distinct identification of the traitor. For it could hardly be supposed that Judas, if thus pointed out, could have retained his place at the supper table, among the Apostles. But, in reality, there is no reason to regard the expressions recorded by St. Matthew and St. Mark and the same may be said of that recorded by St. Luke as thus distinctly identifying the one who was to betray our Lord.

We may, indeed, regard them as conveying an intimation to Judas himself, if, as may be supposed, at the time they were uttered, or shortly before it, his hand had been upon the table, or if he had helped himself to some meat from the same dish as our Lord, and those others who sat in immediate proximity to Him. Or we may even suppose that those expressions, or at least some of them, were altogether indefinite, so as to convey only the sad intelligence that it was one of His chosen Twelve who was about to betray Him; just as the words, Unus vestrum me traditurus est, (“one of you is about to betray me”); of St. Matthew 26:21, or the Unus ex vobis tradet me, qui manducat mecum (“one of you shall betray me, the one that eateth with me”) of St. Mark 14:18, or the prophetic words of the Psalmist (Ps 41:9) quoted by our Lord, as recorded by St. John 13:18, qui manducat mecum panem levavit contra me calcaneum suum (“He that eateth bread with me shall lift up his heel against me”).

But there appears no sufficient reason for supposing that any of the expressions hitherto quoted was calculated, or was intended, to identify the traitor, at least in the eyes of his fellow-Apostles. Thus, then, there is no difficulty in supposing that they may have been spoken by our Lord at even an early period of the supper.

The incident recorded by St. John (13:21, 30) is of an essentially different character. There our Lord, after announcing in general terms, Unus ex vobis tradet me, is appealed to by St. John, at the instance of St. Peter, to declare who the traitor may be (see verses 24-26). The request of the beloved disciple is promptly met by the response, Ille est ego intinctum panem porrexero (“He it is to whom I shall reach bread dipped”); and the traitor is immediately pointed out by the signal thus selected by our Lord: et cum intinxisset panem dedit Iudae Simonis Scariotis (“and when he had dipped the bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon”).

Joh 13:22  The disciples therefore looked one upon another, doubting of whom he spoke.

The disciples therefore looked (rather, were looking, as in the original and Vulgate) one upon another, doubting of whom he spoke. The words vividly recall the actual scene. Strange as the prediction was, no one doubted its fulfilment; they merely doubted of whom He spoke. We say of whom He spoke, for though the original might mean, of what He spoke, Peter’s question immediately afterwards: “Who is it of whom he speaketh?” (verse 24) shows that their doubt regarded merely which of them was to betray Him. Earlier in the night, when He first referred to the betrayal, they may perhaps, have doubted even what He meant; but that stage was now passed, and the only doubt remaining was as to which of their number was to play the part of traitor.

Joh 13:23  Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved.

Now there was leaning on Jesus bosom. Rather: “Now there was reclining at the table in Jesus bosom.”  Instead of sitting at table, as we do now, the Jews of our Lord’s time, and for some time before and after, reclined. The guests lay resting on their left arm, stretched obliquely, their feet being behind them, instead of under the table, as with us. In this way a guest was reclining close to the bosom of the guest behind him, and such was the position that St. John occupied in reference to Christ on this occasion. When three reclined on the same couch, the centre was the place of honour.

One of his disciples whom Jesus loved. This, according to all antiquity, was our Evangelist himself. The title, which occurs here for the first time, is perhaps suggested by the recollection of the privileged position he occupied at the Last Supper. It occurs again, John 19:26; John 21:7, 20. Comp. also John 20:2.

Joh 13:24  Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him and said to him: Who is it of whom he speaketh?

The best – supported Greek reading agrees substantially with the Vulgate: “Simon Peter therefore beckoneth to him, and saith unto him, Tell who it is of whom he speaketh.” According to this reading, St. John was not asked to inquire of Jesus who the traitor was, but St. Peter takes for granted that St. John had already learned from Jesus, and simply asks the beloved disciple to make it known to them all. In the other and less probable reading, St. John is asked to inquire (πυθεσθαι) who the traitor is. It might seem more in accordance with St. Peter s character, that he should directly ask our Lord to point out the traitor, but it is possible that Christ’s threat, recorded in verse 8, may have made him less confident than usual.

Joh 13:25  He therefore, leaning on the breast of Jesus, saith to him: Lord, who is it?

If St. Peter supposed that St. John already knew who the traitor was, he was mistaken, as we see by this verse.

He therefore leaning on. The best-supported Greek reading would be rendered thus: He leaning back, as he was, on &c ( αναπεσων ουν εκεινος ουτως επ).

From his reclining position, St. John had merely to lean a little farther back in order to rest his head on His Divine Master’s breast. Thus “as he was,” i.e., without changing his position at table, by merely leaning back, he was not only close to the bosom of Jesus, but was on His breast, and could whisper his question. All the fathers speak of the privilege conferred upon St. John on this occasion in his being admitted to such familiarity with his Divine Master.

Joh 13:26  Jesus answered: He it is to whom I shall reach bread dipped. And when he had dipped the bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon.

If we suppose the bread which was handed to Judas to have been dipped in the Charoseth, a kind of sauce used at the Paschal Supper, then the meats of the Paschal Supper must have been still upon the table. This there is no difficulty in admitting, even if the ordinary supper, following upon the Paschal Supper, had already been partaken of.

Joh 13:27  And after the morsel, Satan entered into him. And Jesus said to him: That which thou dost, do quickly.

After the morsel had been given to Judas, “Satan entered into him;” that is to say, Judas now revealed as a traitor, at least to St. John, became still more confirmed in his evil purpose. The words are generally understood not as implying corporal possession of Judas by the devil, but as signifying that the devil now gained full control over him in reference to the crime contemplated. And Jesus said to him: That which thou dost, do quickly, again intimating that He knew the traitor’s thoughts, and at the same time manifesting His own readiness to suffer. These words of our Lord do notcontain a command or permission to Judas to commit the crime: but, taking for granted the traitor s fixed determination “That which thou dost, i.e., hast determined to do, they show Christ’s readiness and eagerness to begin to drink of the chalice that awaited Him.

Joh 13:28  Now no man at the table knew to what purpose he said this unto him.

The disciples, even St. John, knew not to what purpose Christ had told Judas to do quickly what he was determined to do. Though St. John, at least, had learned immediately before that Judas was to betray our Lord, still he probably did not expect that the betrayal would follow so rapidly upon the disclosure of the traitor.

Joh 13:29  For some thought, because Judas had the purse, that Jesus had said to him: Buy those things which we have need of for the festival day: or that he should give something to the poor.

For some thought . . . . . for the festival day. This conjecture of the Apostles is adduced by some writers as a proof that the supper mentioned by St. John in this thirteenth chapter is not the Paschal Supper; or, if the Paschal Supper, that it was not celebrated on the night of the 14th of Nisan. They argue (a) that on the night of the 14th of Nisan it would not have been lawful to buy or sell; and, therefore, the Apostles would not have conjectured as on this occasion they did; and (b) that on the night of the 14th of Nisan the Feast would already have begun, and the Apostles would not have conjectured that Judas was about to buy necessaries in preparation for the Feast.

But to (a) we reply that the buying and selling of articles of food was not forbidden during the Pasch (Exodus 12:16), and certainly was not for bidden on a festival that fell, as in this case, on a Friday, the day before the Sabbath. To (b) we answer that though the festival time had begun, yet it lasted seven days; and the fact that a few hours of the festal period had already elapsed would not prevent the Apostles from conjecturing that Judas might be making provision for the long period that was still to come. To the poor. From this conjecture, and from John 12:5, we may conclude that our Lord and the Apostles were in the habit of giving alms to the poor.

Joh 13:30  He therefore, having received the morsel, went out immediately. And it was night.

When Judas found himself revealed as the traitor, he immediately left the supperroom. The Evangelist adds: And it was night, no doubt in order to give completeness to the history, but possibly also to mark the contrast of the light Judas left behind him with the outer darkness into which he went forth. Erat autem nox (“and it was night”), says St. Aug., Et ipse qui exivit erat nox (“And he that went out was himself the night”).

Let us pause for a moment in the narrative of St. John to inquire whether the Blessed Eucharist was instituted before the departure of Judas; whether, therefore, he sacrilegiously received the Blessd Eucharist and was ordained priest at the Last Supper. The great majority of the fathers answer in the affirmative. This view seems to us extremely probable. For the Synoptic Evangelists all take care to tell us that Jesus sat down with the Twelve; and then a few verses afterwards, without any indication of a change in the company, with out the slightest hint that any one had departed, they proceed: “And whilst they were at supper, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke, and gave to His disciples, and said: Take ye, and eat; this is My body” (Matt 26:26). Compare St. Mark and St. Luke. Hence, although they must have had the treachery of Judas before their minds while writing, yet they say not a word about his departure, as it might naturally be expected they would, if he had actually departed. Nay, St. Luke’s version of our Lord s words clearly implies that Judas was present at the institution of the Blessed Eucharist; for in St. Luke our Lord seems to contrast His own love in instituting the Blessed Eucharist with the treachery of one who was present. “This is the chalice, the New Testament in My blood, which shall be shed for you. But yet behold the hand of him that betrayeth Me is with Me on the table” (Luke 22:20-21). Therefore, according to St. Luke, Judas was still at the table after the institution; and St. Mark states that all present drank of the chalice: “And they all drank of it” (Mark 14:23).

It seems to us, then, much more probable that Judas received the Blessed Eucharist, and was ordained priest at the Last Supper. Many, however, hold the opposite view; among others, St. Hilary, Innocent III., Salmeron, B. Lamy, Corluy, Langen, and Cornely. The latter says that he agrees in this “Cum plerisque modernis” (Corn., Hi., p. 298, note). Their principal arguments are: (1) That St. Matthew, who was present at the Last Supper, records the disclosure of the traitor before the institution of the Eucharist, while we know from St. John (verse 30) that Judas departed when he was disclosed: therefore he departed before the institution of the Eucharist. But this argument loses its force, if we hold as above, that Christ referred on several occasions during the night to the trea chery of Judas, and only on the last occasion definitely disclosed who the traitor was.

(2) They say, that surely our Lord did not allow Judas to make a sacrilegious Communion and receive Holy Orders, when He could so easily have prevented it. But we may reply that Christ referred several times to the betrayal, in order to recall Judas to a better sense; failing in this, He left him free, just as He leaves unworthy communicants or bad priests free now.

We believe, then, that modern commentators have no solid reason for departing from what was undeniably the common view in the early Church, that Judas at the Last Supper did receive Holy Communion and was ordained priest.

Joh 13:31  When he therefore was gone out, Jesus said: Now is the Son of man glorified; and God is glorified in him.

With this verse our Lord’s last discourses begin. They are divided into two portions by the change of place at the close of chapter 14, the first portion containing what was spoken in the Supper Room (13:31-14:31); the second, what was spoken just outside the Supper Room or along the way to Gethsemane or at some point on the way (chapters 15-16). In the first portion the leading ideas are that He and the Apostles are to be separated because He is about to ascend to the glory of the Father; still, that not withstanding the separation, they shall not be orphans, but He and they shall be united.

When he therefore was gone out Jesus said. The departure of Judas marked the beginning of the end, and Jesus at once turned to the eleven with words that prove His knowledge of what was about to happen, and His acceptance of the issue of the traitor’s work.

Now is the son of man glorified. Judas had finally decided to betray Him, and He Himself had fully accepted what was to follow, so that His death, now so certain and so near, might be spoken of as already past: “is . . glorified.” For their consolation and encouragement He refers to His death as a glorification, as indeed it was, being a triumph over Satan and sin, and the prelude to victory over death itself.

And God is glorified in him. God’s rigorous justice and boundless love for men were manifested by His sending His Divine Son to die for them, and hence God was glorified in the death of Christ. See Rom 3:25-26; Rom 5:8-9.

Joh 13:32  If God be glorified in him, God also will glorify him in himself: and immediately will he glorify him.

Many authorities omit the words: “If God be glorified in him.”  In himself. The meaning seems to be: with Himself, as in John 17:5, which reads: “And now glorify thou me, O Father, with thyself.” Immediately, we refer to the time of the crucifixion.

Joh 13:33  Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You shall seek me. And as I said to the Jews: Whither I go you cannot come; so I say to you now.

The glorification of Christ implied His departure from the Apostles, and the time was now come for making known to them the separation. At present they, any more than His enemies, could not follow Him, and what He had before declared to His enemies (John 7:33-34), He now declares to His dearest friends. Yet, though the substance of the declaration is in both cases the same, Christ’s purpose in making it was very different. To the Jews it was made in the hope that they would thus be urged to make good use of the time that still remained to them before the separation, while in the present case the motive seems rather to be to forearm the Apostles by fore warning them and putting before them various motives of consolation.

Little children. The term (τεκνια) occurs only here in the Gospels, but is found six (or seven) times in St. John’s First Epistle. The diminutive form is expressive of tender affection, and perhaps of anxiety for those who were still immature.

Little children you shall seek me, &c. See above on John 7:34. The declaration is somewhat different in form on this second occasion. The words: “and shall not find me” (John 7:34) are omitted, and instead of: “where I am” the present text has: “whither I go.”  As we have said, the leading idea in both cases is of separation, but since that separation was to be followed in the case of the Apostles by spiritual union (John 14:18, 23), hence He now omits the words: “and shall not find me;” though in the sense of not finding Him any longer visibly present among them, the words were true even in reference to the Apostles.

Joh 13:36  Simon Peter saith to him: Lord, whither goest thou? Jesus answered: Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now: but thou shalt follow hereafter.

St. Peter, all absorbed in Christ s words (verse 33), which signified that he was to be separated from his Divine Master, asks: Lord, whither goest thou? Christ’s reply means that He was going to Mis Father, whither Peter should one day follow, though he could not follow then. Thou shalt follow hereafter. These words implied Peter’s final perseverance and salvation.

Joh 13:37  Peter saith to him: Why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thee.

St. Peter, not under standing Christ’s reply, and thinking that He meant to go to some place of danger, testifies his readiness to die for Christ, and hence, he implies, to follow Him anywhere.

Joh 13:38  Jesus answered him: Wilt thou lay down thy life for me? Amen, amen, I say to thee, the cock shall not crow, till thou deny me thrice.

Christ replies, rebuking Peter’s boastful confidence, and declaring that so far was Peter from being ready at that time to die for Him, that before cockcrow he would deny Him thrice.

We believe that our Lord twice on this night predicted the denials by Peter: once in the supper-room, as recorded by St. John here, and by St. Luke 22:34, and again on the way to Gethsemane, as recorded by St. Matthew 26:30-34, and St. Mark 14:26-30. By the latter Evangelists the prophecy of Peter s denial is distinctly placed on the way to Gethsemane, and connected with the prophecy of the general desertion of the Apostle. This latter prophecy, it may well be, called forth from Peter a second expression of his fearless attachment to his Master, and this was followed in turn by a second reference to Peter’s denials.

While the other three Evangelists represent our Lord as saying that the three denials by Peter should take place before the cock would crow, St. Mark, who was a disciple of St. Peter, records the prediction more minutely, and represents our Lord as saying: “Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice” (Mark 14:30). There is, however, no contradiction between St. Mark and the others, even if all refer to the same prediction; for the second crowing of the cock, before which, according to St. Mark, the three denials were to take place, is that which is meant by the other Evangelists, and which was universally known as “the cock-crowing.” That the cock-crowing in our Lord’s time was regarded as so distinct a note of time as to have given its name to one of the four watches of the night, we have clear evidence in the Gospels. Thus, in St. Mark 13:35, our Lord says: “Watch ye therefore (for you know not when the lord of the house cometh; at evening, or at midnight, or at the cock-crowing, or in the morning).” Thus, then, although the cock crew after Peter’s first denial, as St. Mark records (Mark 14:68), still the time generally known as cockcrow about 3 a.m. was that meant when the word was used, as it is in our Lord’s prediction in SS. Matt., Luke, and John, without any special indication that the first crowing of the cock was the one intended. Hence, the second crowing of the cock referred to by St. Mark was the cock-crowing mentioned by the other three Evangelists.

Before quitting this chapter, it may be well, for clearness sake, to repeat here what we consider to be the most probable order of events at the Last Supper.

(1) There was the Paschal Supper.

(2) During the Paschal Supper, or at its close (but certainly before the ordinary supper was over: see above on verse 2), the washing of the feet, accompanied by the first allusion to the traitor (John 13:10).

(3) The ordinary supper, during which

(4) Another reference to the traitor (Matt 26:21-25; and Mark 14:18-21).

(5) The Eucharistic Supper.

(6) A third reference to the traitor (Luke 22:21).

(7) The strife among the Apostles as to which of them was the greatest, occasioned, perhaps, by the anxiety of each to shift from himself the charge of treachery.

(8) The question of St. John (John 13:25), and the final disclosure of the

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2 Responses to Fathers Nolan’s and Brown’s Commentary on John 13:21-33, 36-38

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for Holy Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday | stjoeofoblog

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