One of the consistent themes of the Four Gospels is the theme of the “inept response.” Most often it applies to the 12 apostles who, when taught some important point by the Lord, demonstrate, almost right away, that they don’t get it all.
No one place in the gospels is more thick with the inept response than at the Last Supper. It was nothing short of a disaster. The ineptitude is almost comical if it weren’t so sad. If ever the Lord needed his disciples attention and understanding, it was now. But to a man, they let him down. There is squabbling, misunderstanding, argumentativeness and betrayal, all in one evening.
Indeed it was so awful that one could hardly have faulted the Lord for saying, “That’s it Father, I’ve had it with them, I’m coming straight home!” Praise God he chose to die for the likes of us.
And lest we be too critical of the twelve, we are often like them in many ways. Indeed, they are us and we are them. And the Lord loved them and us to the end.
On Holy Thursday, let’s examine the sequence of the Last Supper which pretty well illustrates why the Lord had to die for us. We will see how earnest the Lord is about this Last Supper, how he enters it with an intense love for his disciples and a desire that they (we) carefully heed what he is trying to teach them. We shall see however that they (we) show forth a disastrous inattentiveness and a terrible lack of concern for the Lord.
Here then are the movements of the Last Supper. Watch how things begin with the loving and careful attentiveness of the Lord and end with a selfish, inept and unloving response from the apostles (us?) Here is the sequence.
- COMING CLOUDS – Jesus knows that his hour has come. This meal will be his last meal. Judas has already conspired and been paid to hand him over. Scripture says Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come. He always loved those who were his own, and now he would show them the depths of his love. The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over. (John 13:1) Hence in the gathering storm Jesus considers his last meal which will also be the first Holy Mass. He instructs his Apostles to prepare the meal: He sent two of his disciples, and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the householder, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I am to eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” (Mark 14:13-15)
- CARING CONCERN - This last supper was obviously important to Jesus. Luke records the heartfelt words of Jesus: And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you I shall not eat again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:15-16). Yes this was to be a very special moment for Jesus.
- COSTLY COMMUNION – Jesus, reclining at the table, will now celebrate the Holy Eucharist for the first time. But this was a costly communion. He had already lost many disciples for what he taught on the Eucharist (cf John 6:50ff). It was a costly teaching. Further, after the first consecration, as he looks into the cup he is looking at his own blood soon to be shed, and he distributes his own body soon to be handed over. Yes this is a costly communion, no mere ritual for him. Every other priest before him had offered a sacrifice distinct from himself, (usually an animal, sometimes a libation). But Jesus the great High Priest will offer himself. It is a costly communion.
- COLLABORATIVE CONDESCENSION – During the meal Jesus rises and then stoops to wash the disciples feet. He instructs them to see in this a model for those who would collaborate with him in any future ministry. John records it this way: He rose from the supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded (John 13:5). Jesus then teaches the Disciples: Do you know what I have done for you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. (John 13:12-15). We shall see that, in moments, they will demonstrate a complete disregard for what he has just tried to teach them. Now things get bad.
- CALLOUS CRIME- Back at table and after having taught them that they must wash one another’s feet Jesus becomes suddenly troubled in spirit and says, I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me. (John 13:21). This causes a commotion among the Apostles who begin to ask “Who can it be?” As the anxiety and commotion around the table continue, Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.” Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. “What you are about to do, do quickly,” Jesus told him (John 13:24-30).
- CONFOUNDING COMPETITION – But as Judas takes the morsel of bread and heads into the night, no one tries to stop him! No one rises and block the door or even utters a protest despite the fact that Jesus has clearly identified him! Why?! Luke supplies the answer: A dispute arose among them, which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. (Luke 22:24) They should be concerned about Jesus’ welfare but instead they debate about who of them is the greatest. How confounding and awful! Yet is that not our history? Too often we are far more concerned with our status and welfare than with any suffering in the Body of Christ. So much that is critical is unattended to because we are concerned with our status, position, comfort and welfare. Jesus had just taught them wash each others feet but in an inept response they end up arguing as to who was greatest. Jesus patiently reminds them and teaches: The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For which is the greater, one who sits at table, or one who serves? Is it not the one who sits at table? But I am among you as one who serves. (Luke 22:25-27) Meanwhile, due their (our) egotistical ineptitude Judas has escaped far into the night.
- CAUSTIC CONTENTIOUSNESS – Jesus continues to teach at the Last Supper. This moment he surely wanted to impress upon them his final instruction. How he must have longed for them to listen carefully and deeply internalize what he was teaching. Instead all he gets are arguments. Both Thomas and Phillip rebuke him. John records the outrage: Jesus said Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God ; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” But Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him. So Thomas rhetorically rebuked the Lord, in effect saying, “We have NO IDEA where you are going, when will you show us the way!” Jesus answers but Phillip will have none of this promise to see the Father and he boldly says, Lord, show us the Father, and then we shall be satisfied.” Jesus, likely saddened at all this said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:1-9). Hence his own apostles are being argumentative and contentious. They are caustic and seem also to rebuke the Lord. The Supper isn’t going so well!
- COMIC CREDIBILITY GAP – Undeterred Jesus embarks on a lengthy discourse that John records and which has come to be called the priestly prayer of Jesus. At the end of it the apostles remark, perhaps ironically, perhaps with sincerity: His disciples said, “Ah, now at last you are speaking plainly, not in any figure! Now we know that you know all things, and need none to question you; by this we believe that you came from God.”(John 16:29-30). But Jesus knows their praise is hollow and will not stand the test. There is a great credibility gap to what they say, it is almost comical. So he says: Do you now believe? The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, every man to his home, and will leave me alone (John 16:31-32). Peter undeterred says, Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Here too is another almost comic credibility gap and thus Jesus said to him, “Truly, I say to you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” Still insistent Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples. (John 16:33-35). Well you know the story and that only John made it to the cross. Their credibility was, by this time a dark comedy.
- COMPASSIONATE CONSTANCY- But you also know the rest of the story. Jesus went on and died for the likes of them (us). I wonder if he had some of this Last Supper in mind when he said to the Father, “Forgive them, they know not what they do.” Almost as if to say, “They have absolutely no idea what they are doing or thinking, so have mercy on them Father.”
What a grim picture of us the Last Supper was. A disaster really. But the glory of the story and the saving grace is this, the Lord Jesus Christ went to the cross anyway. Seeing this terrible portrait of them (us) can we really doubt the Lord’s love for us?
May your Holy Thursday be blessed. Hopefully you will attend Mass and the Last Supper/First Mass will be made present to you. Never forget what Jesus endured!