The Mystery of the Betrayer
From his new book, 'Jesus of Nazareth', Pope Benedict XVI discusses the role of Judas Iscariot in crucifixion of Christ.
BY: Pope Benedict XVI
The account of the washing of the feet presents us with two different human responses to this gift, exemplified by Judas and Peter. Immediately after the exhortation to follow his example, Jesus begins to speak of Judas. John tells us in this regard that Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified: "Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me" (13:21).
John speaks three times of Jesus' being "troubled": beside the grave of Lazarus (11:33, 38), on "Palm Sunday" after the saying about the dying grain of wheat in a scene reminiscent of Gethsemane (12:24–27), and finally here. These are moments when Jesus encounters the majesty of death and rubs against the might of darkness, which it is his task to wrestle with and overcome. We shall return to this "troubling" of Jesus' spirit when we consider the night spent on the Mount of Olives.
Let us return to our text. Understandably, the prophecy of the betrayal produces agitation and curiosity among the disciples. "One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was lying close to the breast of Jesus: so Simon Peter beckoned to him and said, 'Tell us who it is of whom he speaks.' So lying thus, close to the breast of Jesus, he said to him: 'Lord, who is it?' Jesus answered: 'It is he to whom I shall give this morsel when I have dipped it'" (13:23–26).
In order to understand this text, it should be noted first of all that reclining at table was prescribed for the Passover meal. Charles K. Barrett explains the verse just quoted as follows: "Persons taking part in a meal reclined on the left side; the left arm was used to support the body, the right was free for use. The disciple to the right of Jesus would thus find his head immediately in front of Jesus and might accordingly be said to lie in his bosom. Evidently he would be in a position to speak intimately with Jesus, but his was not the place of greatest honor; this was to the left of the host. The place occupied by the beloved disciple was nevertheless the place of a trusted friend"; Barrett then makes reference to a passage from Pliny (The Gospel according to Saint John, p. 446).