Commentary on Luke 22:1-27
Looking back to the temptation story, we recall that after the last temptation, the devil departed from Jesus “until an opportune time” (4:13).
Now that opportune time has come. The tempter, here called Satan, enters into Judas Iscariot leading him to “look for an opportunity to betray Jesus.” We sense a connection to Luke’s story of the entry into Jerusalem where the donkey was where Jesus said it would be. Here, too, things seem planned out. “When you enter the city, a man carrying a water jar will meet you — follow him.” That mysterious man should be easy to spot since women were usually the ones carrying water jars!
Luke’s account of the supper is a Passover story, linked to Exodus 12. Fred Craddock reminds us that the Passover Lamb was not a sin offering: “The lamb sacrificed for sin was another ritual; the Passover lamb was the seal of the covenant, and the Passover meal commemorated that covenant offered to the faith community by a God who sets free.”1 Neither Luke nor Paul calls this meal a sacrifice for sin, but in both accounts, Jesus emphasizes the covenant. Only Matthew connects the cup with forgiveness (Matthew 26:28), but the Church in its liturgy has gone with Matthew: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin.” Following Luke and I Corinthians 11 it would be biblically sound to say, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, poured out to set all people free.”
Luke’s description of the meal is in two parts, verses 15-18 and 19-20. This seems confusing because there are two cups! Perhaps Luke brought two strands of tradition together here. In Hellenistic meal practices a ceremonial libation marked the transition between the supper and the symposion or conversation that followed. Early Christians adopted this meal pattern and they, too, offered a libation to mark the transition from the supper: “[Jesus] took the cup also, after the supper (deipnon) saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood.’” (I Corinthians 11:25) A similar order is found in the synoptics and in the Didache: Supper, Raising the cup, Symposion.2
Jesus takes the first cup and tells the disciples to divide it among themselves. His focus is on the future: “I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then verses 19-20 describe a scene closer to I Corinthians 11. Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to them. The verbs follow the same pattern as in the feeding of the five thousand and the Easter meal at Emmaus. (9:16, 24:30) Then, a second cup is offered.
Some scholars believe verses 19-20 were later additions to make Luke’s account correspond to Paul’s, written earlier. However, these verses come together in this meal as both remembrance of the past and covenant for the future. “Luke gives the entire meal a double interpretation appropriate to its situation on the boundary, where Jesus’ own ministry is ending and the life of the church is already being called into being.”3
Even though “Maundy Thursday” takes its name from mandatum, the command to “love one another” in John 13, hearing Luke’s gospel focuses our attention on Jesus’ supper with his friends. We see a very human Jesus who longed to share the Passover meal with his disciples before he suffered.
Think of all the meals Jesus has shared in Luke: a dinner interrupted by a woman at Simon’s house, a meal shared with five thousand on the hillside, eating with Mary and Martha, dinner with a leader of the Pharisees eliciting parables about inviting the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame, and eating with Zacchaeus shortly before entering Jerusalem. When we repeat Jesus’ words, “Do this in remembrance of me,” perhaps we can hear him saying, “Remember me in how you eat — and with whom.”
If we argue about who is welcome at communion, we might remember that Judas shared the meal. He had gone out earlier to plot against Jesus, but now he sits with the others for the Passover meal. It is only after sharing bread and cup that Jesus says, “The one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table.” Judas has already communed with Jesus and the others. Churches have long argued about who is welcome at the table. Are children welcome? Are divorced and remarried people welcome? Are unbaptized people welcome? If Jesus could share a meal with Judas perhaps we don’t need to worry about protecting the purity of Christ’s table.
Communion is a counter-cultural meal. Some years ago, Pastor Jon Nelson of Seattle protested the deployment of a nuclear submarine christened USS Corpus Christi, named after the city in Texas but also meaning Body of Christ. For his protest, Jon was arrested and thrown in jail. Some friends wanted to share communion with him. They brought a loaf of bread (no knife) and wine in a plastic bottle (glass was out of the question). The prison authorities confiscated the bread and wine as contraband.
Jon’s friends were distressed for they so wanted to share communion with him in prison. But when they told Jon what had happened he broke into an enormous grin: “Communion as contraband! That’s it, isn’t it?” he said. “Communion as contraband. Threatening to the powers who that think they own the world.” Bread leavened by the word is testimony to resurrection in the midst of death. Do this to remember Jesus.
1 Fred Craddock, Luke: Interpretation Series (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1990) 256.
2 Hal Taussig, In the Beginning Was the Meal: Social Experimentation & Early Christian Identity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009) For the connection between Hellenistic meal practices and New Testament meals see Chapter 4, “Ritual Analysis: A New Method for the Study of Early Christian Meals.”
3 Sharon H. Ringe, Luke (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995) 261.
PRAYER OF THE DAY
You gave up all the power of the universe to serve humanity in the body of one who would endure great suffering. By your ultimate sacrifice you taught us how to serve. Make us grateful servants of the people of the earth, and feed our souls with your holy meal, for the sake of the one who held back nothing to give us everything, Jesus Christ our savior. Amen.
We shall walk through the valley, Undine Smith Moore