Our readings this week start with Jesus essentially warning the disciples: Haters gonna hate. He tells them, “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you.” Jesus is preparing them for the persecution they will face as they bear witness to his life and love. And indeed, the warning holds true: Only John, the beloved apostle (and possible writer of this gospel) does not die a violent death.
This week, we are in the midst of what is known as the Farewell Discourse, Jesus’ final extended conversation with the disciples. In chapter 16, he tells his friends that the Advocate is coming. He is speaking, of course, of the Holy Spirit, which will descend upon the disciples after the resurrection on the Day of Pentecost. The Spirit, Jesus tells us, will lead us in the way of truth. Jesus is the Revealer, and the Holy Spirit continues the ongoing revelation of Christ.
Chapter 17 concludes the Farewell Discourse with the longest prayer by Jesus in any of the gospels. Sometimes called the Farewell Prayer or High Priestly Prayer, this prayer is a beautiful conversation between Jesus the Son and God the Father. Jesus prays for the disciples—for his friends—and beseeches his Father to give them protection, comfort, and strength. Jesus prays for unity among the disciples, “that they may be one, as we are one.” This verse is a cornerstone of ecumenical conversations, offered as a sign that Jesus desires all of his followers to be one.
After Jesus finishes his prayer, he and his disciples leave the Upper Room and enter the garden. In just seventy verses, we move from Jesus’ last words in the garden to his last breath. In just seventy verses, the savior of the world will die like a common thief, crucified on the cross. Steady yourself as you read these verses. Even though you know what’s coming, the gut punch will drop you to your knees.
In the garden, Judas has brought a group of soldiers with lanterns and torches and weapons. While Jesus responds calmly to the soldiers’ inquiries, Simon Peter counters not with peace but the sword, striking one of the guards and cutting off a piece of his ear. Jesus chides his friend: “Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?” In other words, this is happening. This has to happen, for all of our sakes.
In John’s account, Jesus is taken first to the house of Annas, the son-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. While the high priest questions Jesus, Peter faces his own accusers. And just as Jesus prophesied, Peter denies knowing the Lord three times. Jesus is then taken to Pilate, and the final trial begins.
Interestingly, there are two “courtrooms” for the trial: Outside Pilate’s headquarters, where the religious leaders await so as not to become ritually unclean for the Passover; and inside, where Pilate questions—and later flogs—Jesus. At the heart of the trial is the sovereignty of Jesus: Is Jesus a king or the King? In true Jesus fashion, the answer is a little complicated, as he tells Pilate, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Although Pilate appears to give the crowd an out, saying that he finds no case against Jesus, he isn’t blameless. He baits the religious leaders, taunting them by calling Jesus King of the Jews. The irony is, of course, that it’s true. But neither Pilate nor the religious leaders believe that, and the phrase goads them into crying for the release of Barabbas, a bandit, instead of Jesus, the savior.
Pilate adds gas to the fire by ordering the soldiers to dress Jesus in a purple robe and crown of thorns, making a mockery of the idea of Jesus as king. The crowd persists, calling for Jesus’ crucifixion: “according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.”
Ultimately, Pilate capitulates and hands Jesus over to be crucified. In John’s Gospel, Jesus carries the cross himself to The Place of the Skull, Golgotha. Pilate has an inscription written on the cross that reads, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” The chief priests are aghast and ask for an edit: “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” But Pilate cryptically responds, “What I have written I have written.”
As Jesus hangs from the cross, soldiers cast lots to divvy up his clothing, fulfilling a passage from Psalm 22, verse 18: “They divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.” Mary, the mother of Jesus, along with Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene, stand near the cross, surely weeping. Jesus asks the disciple whom he loved, believed to be John, to take care of his mother. Then, again to fulfill scripture, Jesus says that he is thirsty, and the soldiers put a sponge full of sour wine on a plant branch (called hyssop) and hold it to his mouth. “When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”