Towards the end of today’s Gospel St. John says, “The Passover of the Jews was near.” Please forgive me for giving you a little theory I have about that statement.
For us the word Passover is used to designate a meal eaten by Jewish people on the night of the first full moon in springtime. But in the directions Moses gave for eating that meal he made it clear that he did not mean for us to take the name Passover for the meal itself. Rather, he told the Israelites to eat the meal already dressed for the road, because they were about to join the Lord for a pass over. They were to pass over from slavery, putting their feet on the road to the Promised Land.
The word Passover refers to the three segments of a journey. The Israelites first passed out of Egypt through the Red Sea; secondly, they passed over the road-less Sinai Desert; and finally, they passed through the flooded Jordan, passing over into the Promised Land.
It appears to me that in writing his Gospel St. John purposely drew our attention to the three-stage-nature of the Passover story. He did that by introducing each stage with the phrase “The Passover of the Jews was near.”
(The word synoptic means seeing things the same way, and we give that name to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. They follow the same sequence of events in telling the story of Our Lord’s public life. In writing his Gospel St. John abided with their sequencing except when he could get his inspired message across by altering the sequence. We see him doing that by placing the Passover meal that year on Friday after the death of Jesus rather than on Thursday night where the others had it.)
While Matthew, Mark and Luke had Jesus cleansing the temple on Monday of Holy Week, John moved it back to the beginning of the public life of Jesus. In prefixing it by saying, “The Passover of the Jews was near,” I believe he wanted us to see it as equivalent to the first stage of the Passover when the Israelites put the sinfulness of Egypt behind.
John dropped the phrase again in Chapter Six when the people began gathering the manna to sustain them through the forty years.
He used it finally in today’s Gospel on the day before Jesus was to complete his Passover by passing through death to his own Promised Land.
The Jewish word for Passover is Pasch. The Paschal mystery that is often mentioned in Mass prayers toward the end of Lent refers to our joining Jesus in passing through death to the Promised Land. Lent has been preparing us to take our part in the Paschal Mystery.