The Last Supper

Luke 22:1-38

LukeNow the Feast of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve.And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. They were delighted and agreed to give him money.He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.

Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, "Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover." "Where do you want us to prepare for it?" they asked. He replied, "As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, and say to the owner of the house, 'The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' He will show you a large upper room, all furnished. Make preparations there." They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God." After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, "Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes."

And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him." They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.

Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers."

But he replied, "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death."

Jesus answered, "I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me." Then Jesus asked them, "When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?"

"Nothing," they answered.

He said to them, "But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: 'And he was numbered with the transgressors' ; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment."

The disciples said, "See, Lord, here are two swords." "That is enough," he replied.
Commentary by Donald Senior, C.P.

Luke's Gospel delights in portraying Jesus at meals: the supper in the house of Simon the Pharisee where the woman had anointed Jesus and washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair, and in turn received the gift of unconditional forgiveness (7:36-50); meals with sinners that provoked the ire of his opponents (15:1-2); breaking bread with the crowds who hungered for his word (9:10-17).

This eloquent sign of Jesus' mission--the gathering of one people, breaking one bread--dominates the opening scenes of Luke's passion narrative. This meal would be the Passover (22:1, 7), the great liberation feast of Israel. On this very night Jesus' enemies had set a trap for him with the help of Judas, one of Jesus' own disciples (22:1-6). But Luke makes it clear that a drama more fateful than human failure is at work here: Satan, the prince of evil, "enters into Judas" and will attempt through such human agency to strike once more at the author of life (22:3).

Once the preparations for the feast are completed, Jesus takes his place at table with the disciples. Jesus had longed to celebrate this festival with disciples; even more urgently he had longed for God's liberation of Israel, the meaning of this feast, and every fiber of his being was dedicated to that end. The bread and the wine become signs of Jesus' own mission: his body broken and given, for them; his blood poured out in a new covenant, for them.

But the disciples do not yet fully comprehend who Jesus is or what is at stake on this Passover eve. Jesus' warns them of impending betrayal but this seems only to confuse them. Even more poignant, nearly comic, is a scene unique to Luke's passion story. At this most solemn moment the disciples begin to argue about which of them is the greatest (22:24). Jesus cuts through their clumsy arrogance by reaffirming the spirit of his own ministry: "I am among you as the one who serves" (22:27). The death of Jesus itself was the final act of service, the ultimate gift of life on behalf of others. This spirit was to characterize all expressions of authority and power in the Christian community. Luke's scene is perhaps overlooked in the Christian liturgy of Holy Week but it has an impact no less compelling than the footwashing scene of John's passion story that we remember each Holy Thursday.

Luke's Gospel reserves a special role for the Twelve, that core group of Jesus' disciples. The very number was symbolic of the gathering of the lost tribes of Israel, the renewal of God's people that was the object of Jesus' mission. His disciples were to be the witnesses to Jesus' teaching and healing (24:44-49); they were to gather the church and take its mission to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8) So Jesus prays for Simon and for the other disciples that the power of evil would not sweep them away (22:31-32). Even though Peter will weaken, the power of grace will draw him back, and his ministry, in turn, is to strengthen his brothers and sisters in the community. As we will see, the evangelist does his best to tell the passion story in this spirit, downplaying the impact of Peter's denial and passing over in silence the flight of the other disciples. For Luke the sure reconciliation that the Risen Christ brings to the community dissolves memories of its infidelities.

The Passover feast concludes with a strong warning from Jesus about the crisis that is about to break upon this fragile community of disciples. They should "arm" themselves and be ready; Luke's Gospel does not underestimate, much less ignore, the aggressive power of evil that lifts its fist against the spirit of the gospel (22:35-38).

top of page