Could there have ever been a dull moment being a disciple of Jesus? We begin reflection on this Holy Thursday with instructions from Jesus to his disciples to go and “prepare for us the Pasch, that we may eat.” The instructions, as at other times when Jesus spoke, must of again struck them as mysterious. Read Mt 26:18, Mk 14: 12-16, Lk 22: 10-13.
Let us read Sheed’s comments on these instructions and this meal about to take place:
They were to go into the city and meet a man carrying a pitcher of water. We might think the directions lacked precision; but in fact it was usually the women who carried pitchers of water, a man thus diminishing his dignity would be instantly observable. They were to give this man a message from their master: “Where is my guest-chamber, where I may eat the pasch with my disciples?” And Christ told them that the man would show them a large dining room furnished, and there they would make the preparations. It seems clear that the man, though not known to the apostles, was a friend of their master. Since we know that after the ascension the apostles would meet in the house of Mark’s mother, it seems not a fantastic guess that the man with the pitcher was a servant in her house.
The evening came and the thirteen gathered round the table. This meal stands out above all the meals that men have ever eaten together because of the institutuion of the Eucharist, and because at it John shows Christ giving his fullest teaching on the Trinity and on the church as his Mystical Body. But it is memorable also for the cold realism of his vision of the church as a society of men, with all their failings thick upon them – yet loved by him. (To Know Christ Jesus by F.J. Sheed, pp.352-353)
Read all four gospel accounts of the last supper: Mt 26: 20-35, Mk 14: 17-31, Lk 22: 14-38, Jn 13-17. Remember these things as you read: 1) not one of the accounts sets out to tell everything that happened (each selects a handful of things from the great number of things said and done that specially concern him as a writer of his own particular book); 2) none of the accounts are any too concerned about the order in which things happened (it is sufficient enough to them, as it should be for us, that Christ did and said these things); and 3) in Lk 22:15-16, Jesus mentions that word “kingdom” again – the word that always touched a nerve in the apostles and would have immediately commanded their attention (Their impatient expectation of the kingdom’s establishment had become an obsession. (ibid p. 353)).
Sheed takes time at this point to address the fact that Luke indicates in his account that there was “strife among them which of them was to be accounted the greatest.” On the subject of greatness in the kingdom, Sheed remarks on the following:
“Satan,” he told them, “has desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat” – run them through his fingers, leaving the winds of false doctrine to scatter them, the most disruptive of winds. Christ’s answer to Satan’s design for their scattering was Simon Peter. “Simon, Simon, I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren” (Lk 22:32). God would guard Peter’s faith, false doctrine would never come through him; Peter’s faith would support theirs.
The question who among them should be the first really was settled now. It never rose again. But Jesus was concerned with a profounder question – not only which of them should be the greatest but in what does greatness in his kingdom consist. He had said it before, now Luke has him saying it again. Greatness was not splendor, not glory in the sight of men. In fact, it was not glory at all. It meant work to be done, a function to be performed necessary for the conduct of the kingdom. The essence of the function was to serve…” (p.354)
I found great comfort and reinforcement in these words – as a Catholic, faithful to the Magisterium, and as a wife and mother, a vocation that consists so much of work to be done and service to be given!
Let’s look as briefly as we can, for this is difficult, on the Eucharist and its relation to this night.
“Judas went out immediately. And it was night.” (Jn 13:30). Jesus seemed to feel that the room was better for his going. There is almost exultation in the words he uttered: “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.” With the one hating element removed, he could say: “As I have loved you, do you also love one another. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.”
He could hardly have said that with Judas in the room. Yet how, we wonder, with the immediate future clear in his mond, could he have said it all? Certainly he was in no doubt as to the way the men around him, the men he loved, were so soon to behave. As they were leaving the supper room he would say: “Tonight you will all lose courage over me; for so it has been written, I will smite the shepherd and the sheep of his flock will be scattered” (Mt 26:31). (p.357)
Of course, anyone familiar with scripture knows that Peter follows this comment by Jesus by saying he surely won’t leave Christ, even if it means death.
But, when the moment came, they all ran as they had been told they would; Peter denied him, as he had been told he would. And these were the men, so clearly known by him in their weakness, to whom he entrusted that very night the sacrament of his own body and blood. We read about it in Matthew, Mark and Luke; and in Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians (11:23-5), the first written account we have. (p.357)
Stop here and read John chapter 6 before continuing. Here in this chapter you will see, a year before in Capernaum, Jesus saying a half dozen times over that unless they ate his flesh and drank his blood they would not have life in them. You will see many of his followers at this point leaving him – thinking him either insane, or if his words did indeed have any meaning to them, it was a monstrous and revolting meaning! Did any of the Twelve go? No, and we are shown Peter giving the answer: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.” This was, for those who stayed, sheer and blind faith. They didn’t know what all of this really meant anymore than any others did, but somehow they figured it just couldn’t be insane or revolting. They must have talked about it amongst themselves, and now, here it was at this Last Supper, an answer.
…He had said in Capernaum that they must eat his flesh: now he gave them bread he had blessed, saying: “Take and eat, this is my body which is given for you.” He had said that they must drink his blood: now he gave them wine he had blessed, saying: “Drink ye all of this, for this is my blood of the new covenant, which shall be shed for many unto the remission of sins.” So the question HOW was at last answered. It was not monstrous, it was not abominable, but was it sane? Had it ANY meaning?
“This,” he had said, “is my body.” It had been bread, it still looked like bread – tasted, felt, smelled like bread – but it was not bread any more. It had become Christ’s body. If he had said HERE is my body, there would have been no such difficulty: in some way that they could not see, his body would have been there TOO, but the bread would still have been bread. The word he used however was THIS – this that he held in his hand, bread if ever they had seen bread.
For them at this first hearing, as for believers ever since, the test of faith lay less in believing that his body was there than in believing that bread was NOT there. Was it possible? Peter, at least, must have had his answer ready, for he had said it a year before: “Thou has the words of eternal life.” If Jesus said it, it was so. But this time there was something further – “Do this in commemoration of me.” What he had done, they must do. They could hardly have been very clear yet what it was that he HAD done, that they must do. (pp. 358-359)
Let us end with Sheed remarking that for most of us, rightly so, the Last Supper primarily signals the institution of the Eucharist; however, there is much other teaching besides. He asks us to read most carefully John chapters 14-17.
Not to have made them wholly ours is to have impoverished ourselves intolerably. Chapter 14 ends “Arise, let us go,” which links with the opening words of chapter 18, “When Jesus had said these things he went forth with his disciples.” There are scholars who think that chapters 15-17 contain teachings given by Jesus at various times and brought together here by the Evangelist. If so, we can only rejoice at the inspiration which moved him thus to assemble them.
In the discourse as he records it, we find the greatest body of teaching Christ ever gave on the Trinity. This was especially to the point here, for two reasons – because the Spirit was soon to be sent, and because the redemption was soon to be accomplished. Neither the sending nor the redeeming would be comprehensible apart from the doctrine of the Trinity. (p. 359)
From the supper room, they came down the hill to the brook Cedron, crossed it, and went up the Mount of Olives to Gethsemani – a half-hour’s walk. The “garden” was a small plantation of olive trees containing an olive-press. Who was the owner? A friend of Jesus’, surely; Jesus would hardly have made the private property of a stranger a frequent sleeping place for himself and the Twelve. (;.361)