A Friend to Messiah

Feast of St. John the Evangelist

By Jane Williams

A Reading from the Gospel of John 13:20-35

20 “Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.”

21 After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. 23 One of his disciples — the one whom Jesus loved — was reclining next to him; 24 Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25 So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it? ‘ 26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. 27 After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” 28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29 Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. 30 So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”


The readings for the first week of Christmas return almost obsessively to the death of Christ. After commemorating the martyrdom of Stephen yesterday, today we turn to the Last Supper. Christmas rejoicing must not be allowed to blind us to the costliness of God’s saving action in Jesus Christ.

Today, as we remember St. John, the gospel reading gives us a tiny glimpse into the relationship between Jesus and the “beloved disciple.” Jesus is telling his friends the painful truth that one of them is about to betray him to the Roman authorities. Peter desperately wants to know who will do this awful thing but does not have the courage to ask outright: perhaps he is secretly afraid of the answer? Instead, Peter gets the disciple closest to Jesus to find out. Interestingly, however, the passage makes it clear that Jesus does trust the beloved disciple with this information, and is right to do so: he does not pass it on to the others, who do not understand the interaction that follows between Jesus and Judas.

The rest of the writings associated with the name of John speak constantly, stringently, of the command to love one another, and here we see the beloved disciple acting with disciplined love toward both Jesus and Judas. He does not betray either of them; he does not give in to the temptation of passing on the gossip about Judas, but his presence and understanding must have been balm to Jesus as he looks ahead with dread and courage.

Dr. Jane Williams is McDonald Professor in Christian Theology at St Mellitus College. She is also an editor, a sought-after public speaker, and is involved in promoting theological education in the Anglican Communion. She is the author of a number of books, including The Art of Advent (SPCK, 2018).

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Today we pray for:

The Diocese of Indianapolis
St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Richmond, Va.


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