Day 5 - Thursday

Passover and the Last Supper

More than any other gospel writer, Luke emphasizes Christ’s many meals and the variety of his table companions. These meals reveal not only the heart of the gospel but also the conflicts it triggers. And the Last Supper is no exception.

Luke highlights how Christ modeled the gospel when he sat down to eat. For example, he not only called the despised tax collector Levi to follow him but then attended a banquet with all the other tax collectors in the district. The Pharisees were quick to complain to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” (5:30). This deep-seated prejudice proved difficult to shift. Jesus kept eating with the “wrong” kind of people, and his opponents kept making the same objection, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner” (19:7).
Jesus also upset the digestion of his table companions when a woman with a certain reputation gate-crashed a meal in the house of a Pharisee. She poured out her heart before Jesus. The Pharisee objected that he couldn’t be a prophet, otherwise he would have known “that she is a sinner” (7:39).

Again, one Sabbath Jesus was invited out to lunch and met a man who hadn’t been invited, for he was suffering from dropsy. His condition meant he wasn’t welcome at the table, for he would detract from the honor of the dinner guests. Jesus cured him, showing the Sabbath to be a day of liberation (14:4–5), and on entering and sitting down to eat told those competing for places of honor around that table that “all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (14:11).
You get the picture. If you wanted to learn about the gospel, and how it triggered opposition, you just had to sit down to eat with Jesus. That is precisely what happened when the Twelve sat down with Jesus for the Last Supper—a Passover celebration (22:7–8, 13). Jesus transforms this annual memorial of the exodus by refracting it through the lens of the gospel. When Jesus had met with Moses, along with Elijah, on the mountain, they spoke together “of his departure (literally “exodus”), which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (9:31). And now, in Jerusalem Jesus presides at Passover, a celebration of the exodus.

As Jesus leads his disciples through the meal, he builds on the Passover tradition but explains how his gospel goes beyond it. The traditional Passover celebration included standard explanations for the various items on the table—bitter herbs, salt water, etc—but Jesus takes time to highlight other elements. He explains that the bread represents his body and the wine, his blood (22:17–19). Significantly, he’s silent about the main course—the lamb. The Passover lamb was not a sin offering but rather symbolic of God’s covenant with his people. By implication, Jesus is the lamb, and this explains why the wine “is the new covenant in my blood” (22:20). That is, Christ will lead a new exodus that will go beyond the redemption of Israelite slaves. He will free the world from the clutches of sin. Therefore, in a nutshell, the meal proclaims this gospel.

Yet for Luke, a meal with Jesus would not be complete without a dispute. He alone reports the unseemly argument between the disciples around the table about which of them would be the greatest in the kingdom (22:24–27). Their dispute shows they are as clueless about the gospel as the religious leaders who opposed Christ at multiple meals. His rebuke that the greatest among them would be judged by how well they served others, because “I am among you as one who serves” (22:27), underlines this basic failure—a failure that culminates in Judas’s betrayal and Peter’s denial of their master.

Perhaps Jesus summed up the most basic truth of the gospel when he told them, “this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted among the lawless’” (22:37). This quotation from Isaiah is often taken to refer to Christ’s crucifixion between two criminals (23:32–33). However, as we’ve seen, it was his custom to eat with “sinners”, that is, law breakers. Thus Jesus fulfills Isaiah’s words because his ministry to the “lawless” at many meals shows how he identified with those despised by the pious. And Jesus wanted to make that absolutely clear at this final meal before he died.

By Dr. Lawrence Turner

Listen to a reflection on this topic from the One project gathering in Seattle, 2016

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