The Kairos: Matthew 26:17-35

Matthew 26:17-35

MatthewOn the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?"

He replied, "Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, 'The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.'" So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover.

When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. And while they were eating, he said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me." They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, "Surely not I, Lord?"

Jesus replied, "The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray 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."

Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, "Surely not I, Rabbi?" Jesus answered, "Yes, it is you."

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body." Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom."

When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Then Jesus told them, "This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: "'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.' But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee."

Peter replied, "Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will."

"I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times."

But Peter declared, "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you." And all the other disciples said the same.
Commentary by Donald Senior, C.P.

The next set of scenes focus on Jesus' last meal with his disciples. It is the eve of Passover, the beginning of the great pilgrimage feast when Jews from all over Israel and across the Roman world celebrated the Exodus, God's liberation of the people from slavery and death. With majestic solemnity Jesus begins the preparation for his last Passover. He sends disciples into Jerusalem giving them precise instructions on preparing for the supper. The words of Jesus, unique to Matthew, are filled with meaning: "My appointed time draws near" (26:18). The Greek word kairos is used again, signifying the decisive moment of history when an old world would die and a new age would be born. For Matthew the death and resurrection of Jesus are in fact the turning point in all of human destiny.

The disciples obediently follow Jesus' commands and all is ready for the Passover celebration. The mood of this farewell supper is laced with both sadness and exultation. In Semitic culture as in so many others, the meal was a sacred moment, a time in which the common bonds of life and friendship were to be celebrated. Against that backdrop, Jesus predicts that one of the twelve would violate the bond between disciple and master. The other disciples are distressed and ask the question that is to echo in the heart of every Christian who has to face his or her infidelity: "Is it I, Lord?" (26:22).

Judas becomes the antitype of the disciple, a figure that seems to fascinate the evangelist. All of human history is entwined mysteriously with God's providence, even the terrible failure of apostasy and betrayal. But the reality of God's providential love does not rob us of our responsibility. Throughout his gospel Matthew lingers over this theme: we are accountable to God for our choices and our actions. If Judas chooses death, death he will experience. As if sealing his fate, Judas echoes the question of the other disciples: "Surely it is not I, Rabbi?" (26:25), an ironic touch found only in Matthew's account.

At the conclusion of the meal Jesus would return to the tragic theme of betrayal and failure (26:31-34). Not only Judas but all of the disciples, including Peter whom Jesus had blessed as their leader (16:16) and sustained upon the chaotic sea (14:28-31), would find their loyalty to Jesus break upon the shoals of intense suffering and fear. Even these bleakest of moments do not escape the embrace of God's Word; the failure of the disciples fulfills the prophecy of Zechariah 13:7, "I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed".

These predictions of betrayal and failure form a poignant frame around the key moment of the Passover meal. Using vivid, indelible symbols, Jesus tells the disciples the meaning of his death. The bread broken is his body given for them; the cup poured out is his blood, the "blood of the covenant" offering God's forgiveness and unquenchable love to all. All of Jesus' ministry--every word of liberating truth, every healing touch, every confrontation with injustice--is distilled here in the bread and the cup, in the body and blood of Jesus given totally for the sake of the world.

This last supper is not really the final Passover for Jesus and his disciples. He would celebrate it again "new" in the Kingdom of God. Despite their weakness Jesus' fiercely loyal love for the disciples would gather them once again beyond the boundaries of death.

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