“The Final Meal”
Thursday 29 March 2018
I would like you to imagine if you can, what must have been going through the minds of Jesus’ disciples at the Passover meal they shared with him the night before his death. They, of course, did not know that he would be executed the following day. But they would certainly have been apprehensive that things were getting very dangerous for Jesus, and for themselves by association.
What was it about Jesus’ life that had made him such a target of hatred for the leaders of Jews. It couldn’t just have been that he was a popular teacher that attracted crowds of people to listen to him and to be healed by him. There were probably plenty of itinerant preachers who made varying impacts upon the people. Even if he gathered the largest crowds, it couldn’t just be that which had brought him to this hour of climax in his relations with the Jewish leaders.
We should recall that the power of the Jewish elite centred around their control of the people in the sight of the Romans, most particularly through their control of the Temple worship. As long as they controlled the Temple worship, they could convince the Romans that it was in the Romans’ interest to delegate civil power and authority to these religious leaders. With that power and authority came wealth and status.
The Anglican scripture scholar, Bruce Chilton suggests that: “His (Jesus’) initial intention was that the Temple would conform to his vision of the purity of the kingdom, that all Israel would be invited there, forgiven and forgiving, to offer of their own in divine fellowship in the confidence that what they produced was pure.”
However, Chilton suggests that Jesus was disappointed in this hope and had then set about undermining the Temple cult and replacing it with an ethic based on the forgiveness and compassion of God and love for one another.
He set about replacing the Temple with the meal shared between all, including sinners. Furthermore, he preached that it was to such as these, those normally regarded as sinners by the elite, that the kingdom of God belonged.
As a little challenge, I invite you to go through Luke’s gospel to see how many times there were references to meals. It almost seems that Jesus is either going to a meal, or at a meal or coming from a meal. You will be surprised how many times Jesus is associated with meals and how often he is including those people normally excluded by the leaders of the day.
Chilton tells us that: “The last public act of Jesus before his crucifixion was to declare that his meals were the centre of the kingdom.” And so he suggests that this was why he had fallen out of favour with the religious leaders over the time of his ministry.
Because he was replacing the Temple worship, which gave them their power base, with his simple meal, open to everyone, where all he asked of those taking part was to remember him as they shared bread and wine, his body and blood.
And at his last meal with his disciples, he gave an even clearer indication of how his meals were to be the centre of the kingdom. And that was by his humble action of washing his disciples’ feet. To be a partaker of Jesus’ meal, to be at the centre of the kingdom, we are to be of service to each other within the community of disciples and to those outside the community who require our service.
Service of one another, breaking bread and sharing wine, in memory of Jesus – there lies the centre of the kingdom of God.
The Reverend Allan Paulsen
Parish Priest, St Matthew’s, Holland Park