Ver. 1. Before the festival day, or feast of the Pasch. See the note on this word Pasch, Matt. xxvi. v. 2. Here when S. John says, before the festival day, he means in the evening, or latter evening after sunset, on the 14th day of the month of Nisan, when the great feast of Azyms or unleavened bread was begun, (for the Jews began their feasts from sunset on the foregoing day) so that the hours from sunset, at least, on the 14th day of the month of Nisan (at which time the paschal lamb was to be eaten with unleavened bread belonged to the first, and great day of Azyms, which lasted till sunset on the 15th day of the month Nisan. S. John therefore says, the day before, meaning after sunset on the 14th day of the month; but yet it was part of the same great feast, which was kept on the 15th day. See also the note Matt. xxvi. v. 17. Wi.
Ver. 2. And when supper was done. By this we must not understand, that the supper was over; for we afterwards find that Jesus again sat down, and gave bread to the traitor. But these words only mean, that all had partook of refreshment, and might be therefore said to have supped. S. Aug. tract. 55. in Joan.
--- He knew that he went out from God, and would return to God; but at the same time, he did not leave God, when he went out from him, nor us, when he returns to him. S. Aug. as above.
--- And though he went out from God, and returns to him, yet here he condescends to perform the office, not of the Lord God of the universe, but of a man and a slave; (S. Aug.) and this, says S. Chrys. (hom. lxix. in Joan.) that he might tread all pride under foot: doing every thing himself on this occasion, to teach us with what eagerness we ought to perform the duties of humility.
Ver. 4. He riseth from supper; that is, after supper was done, or ended, as it is here said, (v. 2. and 1 Cor. xi. 25.) girded himself like a servant, to wash and wipe the feet of his apostles. Wi.
--- If we compare the text of the four evangelists, it will appear that the washing of the feet preceded the institution of the blessed Eucharist, of which S. John is silent. V.
Ver. 5. S. Ambrose and S. Bernard shew that this washing was mysterious, and significative of the very great purity expected of those that receive the blessed Eucharist.
Ver. 6. Lord, dost thou wash my feet? My master, my Lord, the true Son of the living God, wilt thou wash the feet of me, thy servant, thy disciple, a poor vile sinner? this must not be. Wi.
Ver. 8. If I wash thee not, thou shalt have no part with me. At this, Peter, as one thunderstruck, replied: Lord, not my feet only, but my head; whatever my Lord pleaseth. Wi.
Ver. 10. He that is washed, &c. The feet are always apt to contract some dust or dirt; and in the mystical sense, he that is washed by the sacraments of baptism, or penance, from greater sins, must still endeavour to cleanse, and purify his affections from lesser failings of human frailty. And you, my apostles, are clean from greater offences, but not all of you, meaning the traitor Judas. Wi.
--- It is impossible that the extremities of the soul (if we may be allowed the expression) should not, as long as we tread upon this earth, receive some stain or other; although in the opinion of men, the soul appear just. Many indeed after baptism, are covered with the dust of sin, even to the head, but those who are disciples indeed, need only to wash their feet. Origen, tract. 32. in Joan.
--- The foulness of the feet, when the rest is clean, signifies the earthly affections, and remains of former sins remitted, which are to be cleansed by devout acts of charity and humility. S. Amb. l. iii. de Sacram. c. 1. S. Ber. de cæn. Dom. ser. 1.
--- Though his disciples were clean, still he washed their feet, comformably to that of the Apocalypse, c. xxii. "He that is clean, let him be cleansed still." Origen, tract. 32. in Joan.
Ver. 14. You also ought to wash one another's feet. Not that he made this a standing precept according to the letter; but designed it as a lesson of humility. We find this custom literally observed in several churches, as it is now down every year by diverse prelates, and by Christian kings and princes. Wi.
--- He gives us an example of a more elevated act of virtue, that we may at least learn to practise the lower degrees of it. For he indeed was their Lord, but when we perform this office, we can but do it to our fellow-servants. S. Chrys. hom. lxx. in Joan.
--- This it is, blessed Peter, which you were ignorant of, but which he promises to explain afterwards. S. Aug. tract. 58. in Joan.
Ver. 18. Shall lift up his heel against me. It is the sense of those words, (Psal. xl. 10.) hath supplanted me; and they were spoken of Judas's sin in betraying Christ. Wi.
--- Jesus Christ applies in this place to the perfidy of Judas, that which David appears to have said on occasion of the perfidy of Achitophel, who was thus a figure of the perfidious Judas. V.
Ver. 23. One of his disciples. S. John himself was lying at table in (or towards) the bosom of Jesus.† These words seem to express the manner that the Jews were placed at table. They had couches about a table, to lean or lie upon; and three for example upon each couch. The master, or head of the company, was placed in the midst; so that we may suppose, that Christ was placed on one of these couches in the midst, S. Peter on one side of him, and S. John on the other; and that S. John, in that resting and leaning posture, had his head all the time turned, and inclined towards Christ's bosom: yet it can scarce be imagined, that his head laid continually upon our Saviour's breast or bosom; for this posture would have been very uneasy to Jesus, or to any one. S. John then leaned all supper time towards Jesus's bosom or breast, but not upon it. Wi.
--- Whilst all were fearing for themselves, and Peter, the very head of the apostles, was trembling, S. John rests; reposing on the bosom of Jesus. S. Chrys. hom. lxxi. in Joan.
[†] V. 23. Erat recumbens in sinu Jesu, v. 23. And cum recubuisset super pectus Jesu, v. 25. In the Greek, v. 23, anakeimenoV epi tw kolpw tou Ihsou; and v. 25, epipeswn epi to sthqoV tou Ihsou. The word anakeimenoV from anakeisJai, seems to express no more than the manner in those days of leaning, or lying at table: as in the Latin, accumbere, or discumbere; but epipeswn, from epipiptein epi to sthqoV, signifies a bowing or falling down on Christ's breast, as it were in a fit of trouble or grief. See the author of the Analysis, diss. xxxvi. S. Chrys. (hom. lxxii. p. 423, tom. 8, Nov. Ed. Ben.) seems to make a difference betwixt these two expressions, when he says: Joannes . . . in sinu Jesu recubat, nec recubat solùm, sed in pectus incidit: neque hoc solum quæsitu dignum est, &c. o IwannhV anakeitai eiV ton kolpon tou Ihsou, kai ouk anakeitai monon, alla kai tw sthqei epipiptei, kai ou touto monon axion zhthsewV, &c.
Ver. 25. When Christ had said, one of you is to betray me, S. Peter whispered with S. John, by turning to him behind Jesus's back, and desired him to ask, who this was: now when John had leaned down upon the breast of Jesus, or as the Greek hath it, falling down on the breast of Jesus, as a person may do in a great concern, or fit of grief, he said, Lord, who is it? This posture seems to have been only for that moment of whispering, and to have been different from the posture of eating at table. Wi.
Ver. 27. Satan entered into him, who presently went out with great anger and indignation. It was then night, likely about nine o'clock. Wi.
--- That which thou dost, do quickly. It is not a license, much less a command, to go about his treason: but a signification to him, that Christ would not hinder or resist what he was about, do it as soon as he pleased: but was both ready, and desirous to suffer for our redemption. Ch.
--- Christ does not by these words exhort the traitor, much less command him, to perform his wicked deed; but he means to reprobate it, and at the same time testify that he would not hinder his being betrayed. S. Chrys. hom. lxxi. in Joan.
--- It is the voice not of command, but of permission, not of a person in fear, but of one prepared for death. S. Leo.
Ver. 31. Jesus said: now is the Son of man glorified: the time is at hand, when he shall be glorified by miracles at his death, resurrection, &c. Wi.
Ver. 34. The commandment of mutual love had been previously given, but evidently misconstrued and abridged by the Jews to friends only, to this life only, and for earthly respects: but Jesus Christ reneweth it and enlargeth it after the form of his own love towards us, and giveth grace to observe it. B.
Ver. 36. You cannot follow me yet to the dying for justice sake, for you are not yet prepared for martyrdom; you cannot yet follow me to the glory of my body, when risen from the dead, but must wait till the general resurrection; you cannot follow me to the bosom of my Father, being not yet sufficiently perfected in charity. S. Aug. tract. 64. in Joan.
Ver. 37. This commandment was already in the old law, where it is written, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself; how then does our Saviour call it a new command? It is new, not because we simply love one another; but because we love one another, as he has loved us: not as men love one another, as being fellow creatures, but united in love, as being all the children of the Most High; that so we may be brethren to his only begotten Son, bearing to all the same love that he has borne to us. S. Aug. tract. 64. in Joan.
--- By this shall I moreover know that you truly love me. V.
Ver. 38. The love which S. Peter bore our Saviour was exceedingly tender, but it was not yet sufficiently strong. S. Bern. Serm. iv. in Cant.
--- Jesus therefore asks him, Wilt thou lay down thy life for me? Do you think yourselves sufficiently strong to perform this heroic act for love of me? so far are you from exposing your life for me, that you will shortly deny me. Menochius.