The Final Passover

Mark 14:12-31

Mark-Book of KellsOn the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus' disciples asked him, "Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?"

So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, "Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. Say to the owner of the house he enters, 'The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' He will show you a large upper room, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there." The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me--one who is eating with me." They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, "Surely not I?" "It is one of the Twelve," he replied, "one who dips bread into the bowl with me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born."

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take it; this is my body." Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. "This is my blood of the [2] covenant, which is poured out for many," he said to them. "I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God."

When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. "You will all fall away," Jesus told them, "for it is written: "'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.' But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee." Peter declared, "Even if all fall away, I will not." "I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "today--yes, tonight--before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times." But Peter insisted emphatically, "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you." And all the others said the same.
Commentary by Donald Senior, C.P.

Mark's Gospel is noted for its manner of framing a key scene with two other related stories. That takes place in the next portion of the passion story: Jesus' words over the bread and wine are framed by his predictions of Judas' betrayal and Peter's and the rest of the disciples' failure. Once again Mark's dual focus on christology and discipleship -- so characteristic of his gospel -- are in evidence. Celebration of the Passover is the setting for all of these stories. Israel's great pilgrimage feast commemorated the exodus from the Egypt, God's act of liberating love that was basis of Israel's hope. So the gospel highlights the fact that Jesus' encounter with death, a death that would liberate others, was entwined with Passover.

Mark uses the bare ritual of the Passover meal to proclaim in Jesus' own words the meaning of the passion. Jesus takes bread, gives thanks, breaks it, gives it to his disciples saying, "This is my body" and then he takes a cup, once again offers thanks, gives it to the disciples, "This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many..."

Here was the inner meaning of every act of Jesus' ministry which Mark had narrated earlier in the gospel: Jesus' compassionate healing, his befriending of those left on the margins, his forceful teaching, his confrontations with evil, his feeding of the hungry crowds. All of this was a life given for the others, all of this was ''bread broken" and ''blood...shed for many". Such was the spirit of his mission that would ultimately end in triumph and such was the mission the disciples were called to carry out. But there was a long road ahead and much pain and conversion of heart before they would be ready. And so Jesus' solemn words and eloquent gestures at the supper are framed with his predictions that Judas Iscariot would fail tragically and the rest of his disciples would abandon him. Even Simon Peter, the first disciple to be called (1:16-20) and their leader, would publicly disown Jesus out of fear and abandon his master.

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