A farewell discourse

This coming Sunday is the 5th Sunday of Easter in Lectionary Cycle A. The gospel text is part of a larger section which includes the Last Supper and all that takes place after Jesus had washed the disciples feet, after Judas had left the table (“he took the morsel and left at once. And it was night” (13:30)), and after Peter’s protestations he would never betray Jesus.  The section comes before the disciples see their master led away for trial; then be condemned to death on a cross. Their faith will be sorely tested. Jesus’ teaching, beginning in 14:1, was given to strengthen for the hours, days, months and years to come.

O’Day suggests a broad outline of the context for this larger section of John’s gospel of which our our reading is a part*

  • The Farewell Meal (13:1-38)
  • The Farewell Discourse (14:1-16:33) *
  • The Farewell Prayer (17:1-26)

There are several discourses in the Gospel according to John, however, this one is different. Where the others generally follow an event and serve to explain the event (e.g., John 5,6 or 9), the Farewell Discourse is one given in anticipation of the Passion, Death and Resurrection.  It is thus interesting that in its liturgical use, while Jesus is preparing the disciples for the events of the three days of Holy Week (triduum) – in our time it is after the celebration of Holy Week and Easter. Of course, these readings are also given to us to prepare our endeavors and journey in the times following Easter.

One of the great discourses/speeches of the OT is the book of Deuteronomy, especially the farewell discourse by Moses to the people of Israel on the plains of Moab. The book of Deuteronomy reached its final written form during the Babylonian Exile period when Israel was asking itself the deep questions of identity, place and purpose. It is that context that Moses’ farewell speech receives a fresh hearing by new ears, in a new time and place. These words spoken long ago before the event of entering the promised land, are later heard in a new moment by a new people – even centuries after the event. Just as the people of exile were invited to see themselves on the plains of Moab, so too, in our day, we are invited to see ourselves in the Upper Room. We are reminded what is ours to do in proclamation of the Good News of the risen Christ. It is in this vein that the Johannine discourse is offered by the Church for our consideration on the 5th Sunday in Easter.

Image credit: Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255–1319), “Jesus taking leave of his Apostles,” ca. 1310 | Panel 4 of the Maestro, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Siena | Public Domain

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