Context and Pericope

This coming Sunday is the 6th Sunday of Easter in Lectionary Cycle A. Following on from the gospel of the 5th Sunday, this 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 our reading:

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

John 14:1-10 is the gospel reading for the preceding week (5th Easter, Year A) in which the disciples are reminded to “believe into Jesus” (v.1) because Jesus is the “way and the truth and the life” (v.8).  And it is in that belief that the apostles will do “greater” works (v.12) – by doing what Jesus does, the disciples of every age continue the glorification of God through Jesus that was the purpose of Jesus own works (v.13; cf 5:44; 11:4; 17:4).

However one outlines John 13-17, it is a long passage – too long for a single Sunday gospel, but then one of the challenges is to break the reading into suitable sections so that there is continuity and each passage is cogent within itself.

One of the topics most (if not all) students of the Bible should be familiar with is exegesis. Simply put, it means to give your best effort to let the text tell you what it had to say without trying to place your meaning on top of the words. Part of that training is to begin to gain a sense of when the context changes – e.g., when has Jesus changed locations, changed audiences, or perhaps has begun to specifically address a small group within the larger group of people. You have to know when one pericope (pe-ric-o-pe) ends and the next one begins; pericope being a section, a part of the larger narrative. [Sorry, I just had to use the word. It is from the Greek peri- + kopē, the act of cutting.

This coming Sunday  is one of those times when the good folk who choose the Gospel are challenged in how to select a cohesive and compact reading from the very long “Farewell Discourse” in the Gospel according to John (14:1-16:33).

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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