In Mark (followed by Matthew and Luke), the meal Jesus shares with his disciples is a Passover meal. In John, it is not. Rather, Thursday is the day before Passover, and the lambs to be eaten at the Passover meal on Friday evening will be killed on Friday afternoon, at about the same hour Jesus dies on the cross.
The reason for John’s dating seems to be theological: Jesus is the new Passover lamb.
In Mark nine verses are devoted to Jesus’s last gathering with his disciples, in John five chapters, often called “Jesus’s Farewell Discourse.”
In Mark (again followed by Matthew and Luke) Jesus speaks the words that, in slightly varying forms, have become central to Christian celebration of the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist, Mass, or Communion): “This is my body, this is my blood.” Johns says nothing about this. Instead, John has the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.
“Maundy Thursday” is based on John’s story: “Maundy” derives from the Latin word for the “mandate” — the new commandment — that Jesus gives his followers in John 13:34: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
Back to Mark… the details in this passage recall the preparations for Jesus’s entry into the city on Palm Sunday, but in this case the preplanning has to do with secrecy.
The Last Supper: A Web Of Meanings
- Mark 14:17-25
- Three main elements in Mark’s story of the Last Supper: (page 90)
- 1. they eat the Passover meal together
- 2. Jesus speaks of his imminent betrayal
- 3. Jesus invests the bread and wine with meanings associated with his impending death
- “The theme of failed discipleship continues to be central; more than half of Mark’s narration of Thursday evening and night is devoted to it.” (page 90)
Four rich meanings of the final meal that Jesus shared with his disciples. (page 91)
- A Continuation of the Meal Practice of Jesus
- “According to the gospels, including Mark, shared meals were one of the most distinctive features of Jesus’s public activity.”
- “The issue is that Jesus eats with ‘undesirables,’ the marginalized and outcast, in a society in which the people with whom one shared a meal was hugely significant.”
- “They were real meals, not a morsel and a sip as in our observance of the Eucharist. For Jesus, real food — bread — mattered.”
- “For Jesus’s peasant audience, bread — enough food for the day — was one of the two central survival issues of their lives (the other was debt).
- An Echo of the Feeding of the Five Thousand
- “As Mark narrates what Jesus did at the Last Supper, he uses four verbs: took, blessed, broke, and gave. These four key words refer us back to an earlier scene concerning food in Mark, in which Jesus feeds five thousand people with a few loaves and fishes.” (page 91)
- Why this cross-reference from the Last Supper back to the loaves-and-fishes meal?
- Mark’s story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes begins by establishing two divergent solutions to a hunger situation.
- The disciples: Send them away so they can get something to eat
- Jesus: You give them something to eat
- Jesus forces them to participate step by step as intermediaries in the entire process. (page 92)
- “The point of this story is not multiplication, but distribution. The food already there is enough for all when it passes through the hands of Jesus as the incarnation of divine justice. The disciples — think of them as the already present kingdom community in microcosm, or as the leaders of that community — do not see that as their responsibility and are forced to accept it by Jesus.” (page 92)
- “Mark’s emphasis on a just distribution of what does not belong to us in the incident of the loaves and fishes links, therefore, to the emphasis on the ‘loaf of bread’ and the ‘cup of wine’ that are shared among all at the New Passover meal.” (page 92)
- A Passover Meal
- The first Passover (Exodus 12) occurred on the evening before the tenth plague to strike Pharaoh and Egypt, namely, the death of the firstborn in every household in Egypt. (page 93)
- “The Passover lamb was thus also food for the journey. Moreover, the first Passover was also the last supper in Egypt, the land of bondage. We note that the Passover lamb is a sacrifice in the broad sense of the word, but not in the narrow sense of substitutionary sacrifice. Its purpose is twofold: protection against death and food for the journey.” (page 93)
- “For the empire of Pharaoh, substitute the Roman Empire or any other empire, and the subversive nature of this story is not difficult to discern.” (page 93)
- Body and Blood and the Death of Jesus
- “Mark’s story of the Last Supper leaves the connections to Passover implicit. What it makes explicit is the connection to Jesus’s impending death.” (page 93)
- Noting the differences between Mark, Matthew and Luke about the words of the Last Supper, the authors write “The different versions indicate a degree of fluidity in how the Last Supper was remembered and celebrated. What they all have in common, however, is an emphasis on body and blood, bread and wine.” (page 94)
- What, then is Mark adding here that was not present before?
- “First, the point of Jesus’s meals — from the loaves-and-fishes ones to the bread-and-wine one — is to insist on shared meals as the mandate of divine justice in a world not our own.” (page 94)
- “The language of body and blood points to a violent death. When a person dies nonviolently we speak of a separation of body and soul. But when a person dies violently we speak of a separation of body and blood. That is the first and basic point of Jesus’s separated bread/body and wine/blood words.” (page 95)
- Another level of meaning in Mark. “It would never have been possible to speak of Jesus’s death as a blood sacrifice unless, first, it had been a violent execution. But, granted that fate, a correlation becomes possible between Jesus as the new paschal lamb and this final meal as a New Passover.” (page 95)
- Writing again about participation, the authors write, “Finally, Jesus does not merely speak of bread and wine as symbols of his body and blood. Rather, he has all the Twelve (including Judas!) actually partake of the food and drink — they all participate in the bread-as-body and blood-as-wine. It is, as it were, a final attempt to bring all of them with him through execution to resurrection, through death to new life. It is, once again, about participation in Christ and not substitution by Christ.” (page 95)
- “The Last Supper is about bread for the world, God’s justice against human injustice, a New Passover from bondage to liberation, and participation in the path that leads through death to new life.” (page 95)
Gethsemane, Prayer, and Arrest
- Mark 14:26-52
- “The prayer is remarkable both for its way of addressing God and its content. Jesus calls God abba, an Aramaic word that Mark includes even though he is writing in Greek. In Aramaic, abba is the familiar or intimate form of ‘father,’ much like the English ‘papa.’ It is used by children to address their father not only as toddlers but also as adults.” (page 97)
- “The prayer reflects not a fatalistic resignation to the will of God, but a trusting in God in the midst of the most dire of circumstances.” (page 98)
- “It is instructive to compare Mark’s story of the arrest with John’s account. In Mark, Jesus is a vulnerable human being. In John, Jesus is in charge and is even acknowledged as a divine being by those who arrest him.” (page 98)
- “We have already mentioned how central the theme of failed discipleship is to Mark’s gospel and to Thursday in particular. Judas betrays Jesus, Peter denies him, and the rest flee. They now disappear from the story of Holy Week. Mark does not mention them again until Easter.” (page 100)
Interrogation and Condemnation
- Mark 14:53-65
- Some historical comments:
- Most likely, Mark (and other early Christians) did not know exactly what happened. (During the “hearing” or “trial.”) Thus the trial scene may represent a post-Easter Christian construction and not history remembered.
- It is unclear whether we should think of Mark as presenting a formal “trial” or an informal but deadly “hearing.”
- The temple authorities did not represent the Jews.
- Mark’s story of Jesus’s trial before the temple authorities has three stages:
- 1. testimony against Jesus in 14:55-59
- 2. witness by Jesus in 14:60-62
- 3. the verdict and abuse in 14:63-65
- “Under Jewish law, testimony was required from ‘two or three’ witnesses in order to convict. In the absence of witnesses who agree with each other, the high priest in effect goes for a confession, and the crucial interchange occurs.” (page 102)
- “His response begins with what is translated as a affirmation: ‘I am.’ But as briefly mentioned in Chapter 1, the Greek phrase ego eimi can be translated either as a declarative (and thus as an affirmation) or as an interrogative: ‘I am’ or “Am I?’ (page 102)
- Matthew and Luke both read it as ambiguous. Matthew has “You have said so” (26:64); Luke has “You say that I am” (22:70) (page 102)
- The rest of Jesus’s response shifts the topic to the “Son of Man”: “You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,” and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.'” “Note the single quotation marks within the double quotation marks; they indicate that Jesus’s response includes a quotation, specifically language from Daniel 7:13-14.
- “We need to pause and reflect on the significance of the shift from ‘the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed’ to ‘the Son of Man.’ Recall that when Peter confessed Jesus as the Messiah in Mark 8:29, Jesus did not deny it, but reinterpreted or replaced the title immediate with another one. (page 103)
- “Perhaps for Mark the title ‘Messiah’ presumed a leader who would use violence to liberate Israel from the military power of Roman oppression. That was not Mark’s vision of Jesus, so ‘Son of Man’ was his preferred replacement to avoid any ambiguity between a violent and nonviolent messiah.” (page 103)
- Mark’s quotation of Daniel 7 requires careful consideration.
- In 167 BCE the Syrian ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes launches a religions persecution against Jews who refuse to be assimilated into his Hellenistic empire.
- Some Jews (whom we know as the Maccabees) fought a successful military war on earth against his empire
- Others turned to visions and hope for an absolute divine judgement against all empires past, present, and future
- In the vision recorded in Daniel 7, all the major empires, Babylonian, Medean, Persian, and Macedonian are envisaged as beasts
- The vision includes a trial, and the decision is the eventual destruction of these empires, their replacement is the what is described in Daniel 7:13-14.
- “The fifth and final empire is given not to one like a beast, but to one like a human being. The previous empires are symbolized by beasts, the kingdom of God by a human figure.” (page 104)
- “Daniel 7 is thus an anti-imperial vision and an anti-imperial text: the empires that have oppressed the people of God throughout the centuries are all judged negatively, and positive affirmation is given to the Son of Man, a symbol for the people of God, to whom is given the everlasting kingdom of God.” (page 104)
- “Jesus as the Son of Man must be read against the general background of Daniel 7. That usage has three interlinked aspects:”
- 1. Jesus as Son of Man with earthly authority
- 2. Jesus as Son of Man in death and resurrection
- 3. Jesus as Son of Man returning with heavenly power and glory
- “In other words, all is not future, but is rather a passage from present into future.” (page 105)
- The kingdom’s “presence is now known only to faith (1:15), but one day it will be revealed to sight (9:1).” (page 105)
Confession And Denial
- Mark 14:66-72
- The sequence of 14:53-72 is the last of the three framing units Mark created in recording the passion of Jesus.
- Incident A: Peter follows Jesus to the high priest’s house (14:53-54)
- Incident B: Jesus is interrogated and confesses his identity (14:55-65)
- Incident A: Peter is interrogated and denies Jesus (14:66-72)
- Peter is interrogated and responds with cowardice to unofficial bystanders. Jesus is interrogated and responds with courage to the official high priest (page 106)
- “The framing of Jesus’s confession by Peter’s denials offers those Christians a triple consolation”.
- First, those who imitate Jesus rather than Peter are applauded for their courage.
- Second, even those who imitate Peter rather than Jesus are consoled with the hope of repentance and forgiveness.
- Third, neither denials nor even betrayals are the worst sin against Jesus or God. The worst sin is despair — loss of faith that repentance will always, always obtain forgiveness.