Commentary Excerpt by Tom Boomershine
These words are the introduction to the longest speech to the disciples in the entire gospel tradition. In the context of the Gospel of John this is a major turning point in the relationship between Jesus as a character and those who are listening to John's story. The seven chapters preceding this (5-12) have been addressed to the audience as Jews who are torn between believing and not believing in Jesus. Beginning with chapter 13, and specifically beginning with this speech, the storyteller presenting Jesus turns to the audience and addresses them directly for the next five chapters as Jesus' disciples. It is an implicit invitation to move from being conflicted about Jesus to becoming his disciple.
These verses—John 13:31-35—introduce that long speech. Congregations following the lectionary are going to spend five weeks with this concluding address, John 13-17. I suggest that you learn and perform the whole speech with a group, either at the beginning or at the end of these five weeks. It is an unprecedented opportunity to hear and experience Christ's final words to us as his followers.
There is a very clear mnemonic structure in these episodes. The first episode is focused on the glorification of the Son of Man. The verbal thread can easily be identified: "the Son of Man has been glorified"; "God has been glorified"; "if God has been glorified,then God will also glorify him." It is a poem on the theme of "the Son of Man has been glorified." If you simply identify those phrases and learn them in their sequence, this is an easy episode to remember.
The next episode is a repetition of the verbal thread from earlier in the story: "little children, I am with you only a little longer"; "you will look for me and as I said to the Jews, I say to you, where I'm going you can't come." These are all verbal threads from earlier in the story. They're not necessarily helpful to you in relation to the context of learning this particular episode; they would be if you were learning the whole Gospel.However, the phrase "where I am going you cannot come" is easily remembered.
The last episode is the new commandment "that you love one another." That phrase—"love one another"—in various forms occurs in each of the phrases of this episode. It becomes a major theme throughout Jesus' final words to his disciples.
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