Today is the fifteenth day in my ninety-day reading and blogging journey through the New Testament. We find ourselves today in Mark 13, Mark 14, and Mark 15.
Imagine being at a family reunion.
It’s a nice summer day. The grill is smoking, and the smell of hamburgers lingers beneath your nose. The kids, all of them, all the cousins, are running and playing, even though they have never met each other until this moment.
You look around, and see familiar faces sitting at picnic tables. Lawn chairs are open, sprawling over the grounds like aluminum flowers with their colors of red and blue and yellow. You faintly notice the smell of cut grass under the smell of the meal that’s being served, and you kick the green clippings with your restless feet. You didn’t really want to be here, but your dad called you and said to bring the family, and he would pay for the travel expenses.
But you are actually enjoying yourself. It’s been good to see those in your family in person, rather than liking their comments on Facebook. And you are living this reunion in a surreal way, because the picture your cousin just took of you appeared on your Facebook news feed almost immediately.
Evidently people can’t stay away from that site for just a few hours.
You eat a big meal, though. Pickles and onions and mustard on your burger, followed quick by homemade brownies and homemade ice cream. It’s a festive time, after all, and the nagging tensions in your family seem to pause when everyone has a full stomach.
Your dad, then, waits for a quiet moment. All of the kids are swimming, and the caucus of their noise is now very ambient. You, and everyone else, just sit in these uncomfortable chairs and watch him. Tears flood his eyes, and he keeps people from comforting him. His demeanor is extremely unusual, and you fear immediately for his health. After he composes himself, he begins to speak, his voice clear but trembling. This is what he says:
“I’m about to be murdered. And one of you will be part of this death.”
Everyone is puzzled by this very strange moment. A great meal, Facebook memories, kids and cousins, mustard-stained shirts. It had all the trimmings of normal family gatherings. Until your father said something very, very strange. You swat a buzzing fly from your face.
No one seemed to be puzzled by his prophecy of being murdered, though. Nor was anyone hurt by his seemingly odd behavior. All of a sudden, without notice or anticipation, the reunion turned grim, creepy. Eerie.
What then consumed the thoughts of everyone was which person would help murder your father. Because everyone, almost immediately, began to say the same thing: “Well, it won’t be me. That’s for sure.”
They looked at each other, proud of their full stomachs, and proud of their loyalty.
You watched, with horror, at the easy way your father predicted his murder, and how no one offered to do anything at all to keep that from happening.
Instead, everyone, each member of your family, began to conspire as to which in your family was most likely to kill your dad. You even surprised yourself when you convicted two of your family members with relative ease.
And then your dad stands, with a half-eaten bowl of ice cream. He stumbles for a moment, but catches his balance easily. And then says another eerie statement.
“One of my children will do this. One of my own children.”
He then hands his bowl of ice cream to you, meets your stare with sadness in his eyes, and walks to his car. And the piercing stares of those once-friendly family members pierce your soul, and they convict you with the same betrayal you saw in your father’s eyes.
Someone then holds up their phone to take your picture. Satisfied with your captured reaction, then, they begin typing on the screen.
This is the scene in Mark 14, when Jesus and his disciples eat together for the last time.
Jesus tells them the familiar statement that one of the Twelve, as Mark likes to call them, will, in fact, betray him.
None of them, though, were disturbed by Jesus’ prophecy of being murdered. Instead, the moment became very selfish, and each of them were so self-absorbed that they completely overlooked what Jesus just said — that he will be tragically betrayed by one of those he trusted.
And, according to Jewish custom, those sitting closest to the host were those most favored in the room. Thus we find the ultimate tragedy of the moment. For when Jesus says that he and his betrayer will share an eating utensil, you can see the utter horror, because you can only share a bowl with those sitting closest to you. Evidently Judas had a prominent place in Jesus’ circle.
In spite of this moment, though, Jesus does something profound. Mark makes it careful to avoid any mention of them eating the common and customary lamb at their Passover meal together. There is no lamb on the table.
So instead of eating a lamb, they are eating something else in the presence of the Lamb. And this Lamb is from Bethlehem, the very same town famous for raising the little lambs that would be sold in Jerusalem for sacrifices. Seriously. That little town was responsible for raising maybe 50,000 lambs for all of the Jews traveling to Jerusalem for the feast.
And now we know why Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
And the disciples ate in the presence of this Lamb of a new covenant, their Lamb from Bethlehem, and failed to notice the power of their moment.
Their primary concern was exonerating themselves.
And yet, Jesus still offered them an immense blessing. While we have taken this Passover/communion moment to extreme literalness, that does not seem to be Jesus’ intention, as Mark tells the story.
Jesus is extending a blessing, which was customary for the host of a banquet. He was, in fact, offering the blessing of his sacrifice to those around the table.
He told them to take the blessing of his body and his blood, and handed them bread and wine. Making this blessing with a meal, and then sharing the components of that meal, was a way of saying that the blessing was available to everyone at the table. Commentators agree that Jesus spoke these words in Aramaic, and, if so, he couldn’t have really said the phrase “Take it. this is my body,” because, linguistically, that’s not even possible. He probably said this, then, in Aramaic: “Take it — my body,” and it was translated into Greek, and then into English, as the way we read it in our bibles.
(By the way it’s okay to challenge something we’ve believed all of our lives. It’s a good thing. Keep that in mind.)
So Jesus is not associating the bread with his body. He’s associating his body, and his self-sacrifice, with the blessing. And the same is true for the wine.
Communion is not about the bread, or the wine. It’s about the blessing he gives.
One moment, then, he shares a bowl with his betrayer. The next, he shares his bread of blessing.
And those who receive this blessing only find the quickest way to leave the Christ who offered something so profound. In essence, then, everyone betrayed him, in spite of this amazing gift.
We are no different.
You can find all the previous New Testament posts here. Thanks for reading today.
And for a further comment on Mark’s telling of this Passover meal, read pp. 370-376 in Ben Witherington’s book The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. And please, don’t be afraid to be challenged.