Passion I: Matthew 26:14-56

You Say...

Modern technology facilities instant communication. One of the side benefits of this instantaneous connection is feedback. Do you want to know what others think of you? Use social media software and you’ll find out quickly. Facebook, MySpace and their ilk provide a sense of community, but they can also establish one’s place in the social pecking order. One’s importance can be defined by a simple phrase “You say...”

What do you say about me? You say so. It is you that says it.

These questions and/or statements places the speak in the social context. One could claim that social media software is only an extension of the phrase “you say...” This simple phrase was used by Jesus three times in his Passion as a means to define his place WITH HIS ENEMIES. It is the flip side to the question he asked his followers: “Who do you say I am?” In both the phrase to his opponents and the question to his followers, Jesus places the onus of his identity in the lap of his listener. For Matthew, the responsibility of applying the title of “Christ” to Jesus lay with others; he does not claim the title for himself.

As we make our way through the Last Supper and the scene at the Garden of Gethsemane, let us remember keep that responsibility in mind. “You say..” defines only who Jesus is for us, it also defines who we are as disciples.

Introduction: The Betrayal

14 Then, one of the Twelve, the (one) called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What do you wish to give me so I will betray HIM to you?” They held out thirty silver coins to him. 16 From then on, (he) sought a proper time so (he) could betray HIM.

26:14 “thirty silver coins” could come from Zechariah 11:12 (I said to them, “If you think it best, give me my wages; and if not, keep them.” So they weighed for my wages thirty pieces of silver. World English Bible).

Matthew’s Passion began with the betrayal by Judas. It was a simple exchange of money for a life.

Part 1: The Last Supper

A. Jesus’ prophecy of betrayal by Judas

17 On the first (day) of the Unleavened (Bread), the disciples of JESUS approached, saying, Where do you want (us) preparing for YOU to eat the Pascha?” 18 HE said, “Go into the city to a certain (man) and say to him, ‘The TEACHER says, “MY time his near; at your (house) I will keep the Pascha with MY disciples.”’” 19 The disciples did (just) as JESUS appointed them (to do) and they prepared the Pascha.

20 Becoming late, HE reclined (at table) with the Twelve [disciples]. 21 While they were eating, (HE) said, “Amen, amen, I say to you that one of you will betray ME.” 22 Becoming very distressed, each (one) of them began to say, “LORD, (it) is not I?” 23 Answering, (HE) said, “The one dipping his hand with me into the bowl, he will betray ME. 24 On the one hand, the SON OF MAN ill go just as it is written about HIM, but, on the other hand, woe to that man through whom the SON OF MAN is betrayed. It would be better for him if that man had not been born.” 25 Answering, Judas, the (one) betraying HIM, said, “(It) is not I, RABBI?” (HE) said, “You say (so).”

26:17-19 “Pascha” is an ancient name for Passover; it is the root for the word “Paschal.”

26:18 “My time is near.” This was a clear reference to the impending death of Jesus, what the John the Evangelist called his “hour.”

26:20 “Becoming late” meant after sunset.

26:22, 25 “It is not I?” This question is literally “Not I am?” The use of “I” (“ego” Greek) made the question emphatic. Matthew used the question to turn the scene dark. In the mouth of the apostles, the question was genuine, even surprising. But, in the mouth of Judas, the question was rhetorical.

26:23 “The one dipping his hand with me into the bowl, he will betray ME.” The act of simultaneous action indicates common action and, hence, a common destiny. Both men would meet their end, but one would be guilty and the other would be innocent. The act had a deeper significance. The innocent man would take on the guilt of the evil man. In other words, the unclean (Judas) would make Jesus unclean, in order to cleanse the world of evil.

The act of betrayal in 26:23 reflected Psalm 41:9,

Yes, my own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, who ate bread with me, has lifted up his heel against me.

World English Bible

The narrative for the Last Supper can be divided into three parts: 1) preparation/denial, 2) the meal with the words of Institution and 3) the prediction of Peter’s denial. In Matthew, first two parts are straight forward, with little detail. Matthew does not mention the detail that the other evangelists mention: the man carrying a water jar for a signal or the flow of the Seder supper from the breaking of the bread to the blessing of the cup. Does Matthew assume familiarity of those details by the reader? We don’t know the answer to that question.

The core for the first part of the Last Supper focused on the identity of the betrayer. Jesus made the same statement to the Twelve: One of you will betray me. Their answers were the same “It’s not me,” but the title they gave defined their place in relation to Jesus. The Eleven addressed Jesus as “Lord,” but Judas called him “Rabbi.” Notice the Eleven were disciples, for they used the word “Lord” in the sense we use it; Jesus is our Master. But, Judas used a respectful, but neutral term for Jesus; “Rabbi” simply meant “teacher.” With this simple word, Judas defined his place outside the circle of believers.

Jesus responded in kind. To the Eleven , Jesus gave a prediction, but to Judas he said “You say...” This is the same answer Jesus will give to Caiaphas (in 26:64) and Pilate (in 27:11). In all three cases, Jesus flips the responsibility of identity back on the non-believer. Who are you, Jesus? The Rabbi, the so-called “Messiah,” the King of the Jews? You say...

B. The Last Supper

26 While they were eating, JESUS took bread and, having blessed (God for it), broke (it) and gave (it) to HIS disciples (and) said, “Take, eat, this is MY body.” 27 Taking (a) cup, [and] blessing (God for it), (HE) gave (it) to them, saying, “Drink from it, everyone, 28 for this is MY blood, the covenant (in blood) being poured out for the many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I (definitely) will not drink from this fruit of the vine until I MYSELF drink it anew with you in the Kingdom of MY Father.” 30 Singing (the psalms), they went out to the Mount of Olives.

26:26 “having blessed (God for it)” Unlike Christians, Jews bless God for their gifts. Blessing is synonymous with praise, not with thanksgiving.

26:29 “I (definitely) will not drink...” is literally “I will not never drink...” The double negative makes the phrase emphatic.

“I MYSELF drink it anew...” The word “anew” in Greek is ambiguous; it can either be an adverb (meaning “drink in a new way”) or an adjective (drink “new wine”). In either case, the context placed the sharing of wine in the Kingdom.

26:30 “Singing the Psalms...” The psalms in question were the “Hallel” Psalms: Pslams 113-114 and 115-118.”

The second part of the Last Supper focused upon the words of institution. Since Matthew’s audience was Jewish-Christian, we can assume they knew the purpose for the Passover as a remembrance of liberation from slavery in Egypt and the Exodus. Understood to Matthew’s audience would have been the place of the Paschal Lamb at the Passover Supper in Jerusalem. Each family would bring their unblemished lamb to the Temple to be sacrificed and prepared for the Passover; then, the family would take the meat for the meal and some of the blood to mark the doorpost, just as Exodus 12:7, 22-23 instructed them to do. A Seder meal with the meat of the sacrifice would be a communion meal with YHWH. Marking the door posts with the blood of the lamb would designated an exchange of life, since blood signified the life offered to God; in other words, at the original Passover, the life offered to YHWH in the lamb substituted for the life taken in Egypt.

The Words of Institution changed the meaning of the Passover, for they changed the meaning of the communion meal and the substitution of life represented by the blood. The focus shifted from a celebration of remembrance to a celebration of personal presence. No longer did the followers remember a past event in the meal and the use of the blood; now, they would celebrate the presence of the Christ and what he did to free God’s people. His body became the meal, his blood became the sign of liberation. More important, the meal became a sign, not of God’s action that gave birth to a people, but of the Kingdom. The focused shifted to the future. That is why Jesus would not drink from the cup again until the Kingdom would be realized (26:29).

One last item should be mentioned. The notion of the “new covenant” in Matthew did not mean a split from the Mosaic covenant, or an abrogation of that covenant. Instead, it was a clear reference to Jeremiah 31:

Behold, the days come, says YHWH, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke, although I was a husband to them, says YHWH. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says YHWH: I will put my law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people: and they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know YHWH; for they shall all know me, from their least to their greatest, says YHWH: for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin will I remember no more.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 (World English Bible)

Jeremiah’s prophecy stressed intimacy with God. Jesus’ declaration of the new covenant placed the focus of intimacy squarely on his sacrifice on the cross. Faith in Jesus and what he did would bring his followers closer to the Father in heaven.

The cup of his Blood would become the subject of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.

C. Prediction of Peter’s Denial

31 Then JESUS said to them, “All of you will stumble (as disciples) because of me on this night, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But, after MY rising up, I will precede you into Galilee.” 33 Answering, Peter said to HIM, “If all stumbled (as disciples) because of you, I will never stumble.” 34 JESUS said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you that on this night before the cock crows you will disown ME three (times).” 35 Peter said to HIM, “Even if it is necessary for me to die with YOU, I will never disown YOU.” All the disciples said the same.

26:31 “I will strike the shepherd and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” This is from Zechariah 13:7.

26:32 “ before the cock crows “ In the Roman sense of time (four watch periods during the night), this is between midnight (the second watch) and three o’clock in the morning (the third watch).

The third part of the Last Supper acts as a bookend to the first. Betrayal and denial are cousins; both leave the betrayed/denied abandoned. Both are sins that in some sense depend on pride; betrayal presumes that the act will lead to something better; denial is cowardice shrouded in bravado. Both heighten the sacrifice Jesus inferred in the Words of Institution.

So the first part and the third part makes the actual meal/sacrifice of the Last Supper all the more important. Jesus will serve the sinners, even when those sinners are his closest followers. Despite their brags and denial, they will abandon him, but he will never abandon them. The prophecy of stumbling acts as a transition from the Last Supper to the Agony and arrest in the Garden.

Part 2: The Agony in the Garden and the Arrest of Jesus

A. The Agony in the Garden

36 Then JESUS went with them to a spot called Gethsemane, and (HE) said to the disciples, “Sit here while I, going over there, can pray.” 37 Taking Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, (HE) began to grieve and be distressed. 38 HE said to them, “MY soul is (extremely) saddened unto death; remain here, keeping watch with ME.” 39 Going out a little, HE prostrated (himself) face down, praying and saying, “MY Father, if you are able, (allow) this cup to pass by ME; yet not as I wish but as you (wish).” 40 HE came to the (three) disciples and discovered them sleeping, and HE said to Peter, “So, you do not have the strength to keep watch with ME for one hour? 41 Keep watch and pray, so that you might not enter into the (demonic) test. On the one hand, the flesh is willing, but the (human) spirit is weak.” 42 HE went out a second (time) to pray, [saying,] “MY Father, if you are not able to let this (cup) pass by unless I should drink (from) it, let your will be done.” 43 Coming again, HE found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 Leaving them, HE went out again to pray for a third (time), speaking the same words again. 45 Then, HE came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you sleeping (some) more and resting? Look! The hour is near and the SON OF MAN will be betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46, Rise up, let’s go. Look! The (one) betraying ME is near.”

26:36 “Gethsemane” was an olive grove at the base of the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem across the Kidron Valley. The word, meaning “olive press,” was transliterated from the Hebrew into the Greek.

26:39 “HE prostrated (himself) face down” is literally “He fell down on his face.” Prostration was a proper prayer position, since it was the position of a loyal citizen in the court of the king (see Genesis 17:3, 17; Numbers 14:5, 16:4; Joshua 7:6).

“(allow) this cup to pass by ME” In the Hebrew prophets, the cup was a symbol for punishment and revenge (Isaiah 51:17, Jeremiah 49:12, Ezekiel 23:32). So, by extension, the cup became a symbol of suffering by the victim of unjust punishment and vengeance.

The Agony in the Garden was a time of prayer and testing for Jesus. Like the Transfiguration, Jesus took Peter, James and John aside with him for a time of intimacy with the Father. Like the Transfiguration, the friends of Jesus were sleepy. But, unlike the Transfiguration, Jesus would not be bathed in glory. His glory would be his agony; his time with the Father would be a time of testing.

Three times he goes off to pray, three times he sees his followers taking their rest. His prayer has sacramental and eschatological overtones. The cup he prays to avoid was the same cup he shared with his disciples at the Seder; it is the same cup he challenged James and John with when they requested prime seats in his Kingdom ("Are you able to drink from the cup that I drink or be dunked in the baptism I am dunked in?" Mark 10:38). Unlike Jesus, the disciples could not drink from the cup until they receive the Spirit (“TThe spirit is willing but the flesh is weak”). This cup of suffering would be the cup that opened the doors to the Kingdom.

B. Arrest of Jesus

47 While HE was talking, Look! Judas, one of the Twelve and a large crowd with him, (carrying) swords and clubs, from the chief priests and elders of the people. 48 The (one) betraying JESUS gave them a sign, saying, “The (ONE) I kiss (on the cheek in a friendly greeting) is (HE). Seize HIM.” 49 Immediately, approaching JESUS, (he) said, “Rejoice, RABBI,” and (he) kissed HIM. 50 JESUS said to him, “Friend, be quick about (it).” Then, (the ones) approaching, took (HIM) by the hand and seized HIM. 51 Look! One of the (ones) with JESUS stretched out his hand, unsheathed his sword and striking the servant of the high priest, cut off his ear. 52 JESUS said to him, “Return your sword to it’s place, for all taking the sword will die by the sword. 53 Or, do you think that I am not able to call upon MY Father and (he) would immediately provide ME with over twelve legions of angels? 54 But how would the Scriptures that it is necessary to happen thus be fulfilled?” 55 At that hour, JESUS said to the crowd, “(You) come out in this way with swords and clubs to take (control of) ME like a thief? Daily, I sat in the Temple teaching and (you) did not seize (ME). 56 All this happened so that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then, all the disciples, forsaking HIM, ran away.

26:49 “Rejoice, Rabbi.” The term “rejoice” was the standard greeting in Greek; the Latin equivalent was “Hail.”

26:52 “twelve legions of angels” In the time of Jesus, a Roman legion numbered 6000 soldiers and 6000 support personnel.

26:55 Jesus’ rhetorical question and corollary were meant as insults. The same forces used by the religious leadership to keep order in the Temple came in the dark (the time of evil) to arrest him. If Jesus was really such a threat, they should have acknowledged such and arrested him in broad daylight before everyone he taught.

Judas’ betrayal was complete with a simple greeting. The “hello” (“Rejoice” in Greek), the title “Rabbi,” and the customary kiss were cynical signs of a former believer. Judas now stood with those who would condemn him.

The arrest met with shallow resistance. The wound of the high priests assistant (servant) was meant to be an insult toward the high priest, and not an attempt at a moral blow. In addition, Jesus challenged the leadership in the Temple over his arrest (“Daily, I sat in the Temple teaching and you did not arrest me”); Jesus insinuated the immorality of leadership in the means of the arrest (“You come out in this way with swords and clubs to take control of me like a thief?”). These points will highlight the rift between Jesus and the high priest that will become apparent in the next study on Matthew’s Passion.

Jesus urged restraint on the part of his followers, for he would exercise restraint his powers (“do you think I am not able...”). He was the one the arresting party sought. The rest of the followers ran away; as the fled, they implicitly abandoned their status as disciples. If they addressed Jesus at this point, would he respond “You say...?”

“You say...” Jesus is Lord by who he is and what he does. But, it requires faith to see Jesus as Lord and Savior. While faith is a gift from God, it is freely given, so freely received. And that reception is a responsibility that requires us to call him “Lord.”

“You say...” I say you are Lord, no matter the cost.

Jesus is Lord. What do those words mean to you?