\ A Lectionary Resource for Catholics

Passion Part 1:  Mark 14:1-2, 10-16:8

Preparing for the End

How have you prepared for the end of your life?

Thinking about our demise can be moribund. Such thoughts can come with the loss of a loved one, a danger averted or simply with age. While our culture seems to encourage ignorance of such thoughts (and a delusion of material immortality), it is inevitable that life will present us with the opportunity to think about the end.

How do we prepare for the end? Yes, we can do some spiritual housekeeping. We can update our wills. We can increase the amount of our life insurance. But, there is little we can do to prepare for the suffering our loved ones will endure when we enter the death process.

Jesus tried to prepare his followers for his death with a meal. Yet, he knew they would not be ready. Just as well, he would face his destiny alone.

The Plot Against Jesus

14:1 After two days, there would be the Pascha and the (feast of the) Unleavened (Breads), and the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how, seizing HIM by wily means, they could kill HIM. 2 For they kept saying, “Not during the festival, lest there will be a riot by the people.”

14:1 “...the Pascha and the feast of Unleavened Breads...” These were actually two feasts that fell in the same season, so were celebrated together. The Pascha was celebrated on the 15th of Nisan (see Exodus 12:13, 23, 27); the focus of this feast was on the lamb and the ritual of spreading the lamb’s blood on the doorposts. The feast of the Unleavened Breads (“Hag Hamatzot” in Hebrew) was celebrated for a week (15th to the 21st of Nisan; the focus of this feast seemed to be culinary “spring cleaning.” Since both were celebrated on the same day (15th of Nisan) both were called Passover.

Some scholars see the mention of two feasts as a Markan literary addition, since Passover (Pasca) was (and is) far more known that the “Feast of Unleavened Breads.”

10 Judas Isacriot, one of the Twelve, came to the chief priests so (he) could betray HIM to them. 11 Hearing (this) they rejoiced and promised to give him silver (coins). So, he kept trying (to find a way) how he could easily hand HIM over.

Many scholars have proposed reasons for the plot against Jesus; I have included some of my own thoughts in the commentary on Matthew’s Passion. Sometimes we gloss over the conspiratorial aspect of the plot. The trial and death of Jesus was a premeditated act, committed by the leadership in Jerusalem. It was a effort not to fit the evidence to the crime, but the crime to the evidence. And the evidence was meager, indeed.

Much has been speculated about the reasoning for Judas’ actions. From Mark’s viewpoint, such speculation was secondary, for Judas was simply an actor that helped to push the plot against Jesus forward.

(Mark 14:3-9, is the narrative of the Bethany anointing, which is not included in this reading of the Passion)

Preparations for the Passover

14:12 On the first day of the Unleavened (Breads), when the Pascha was sacrificed, HIS disciples said to HIM, “Where do you wish, going out, (that) we should prepare, so you can eat the Pascha?” 13 HE sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Going into the city, a man will meet you, carrying an earthen jar of water. Follow him 14 and, wherever he enters, say to the head of the household, ‘The TEACHER says, “Where is MY guestroom where I can eat the Pascha with MY disciples.” 15 He will show you a large (upper) room, spread out (with carpets and reclining pillows) and ready. Prepare (the supper) for us there.” The disciples went out, came into the city, found (the room) just as HE told them and prepared the Pascha.

14:12 “the first day of Unleavened (Breads)” This is a reference to the Passover festival which lasted eight days. The Passover Seder was celebrated on the first day (15th of Nisan); since the Jewish day began a sundown, the celebration would commence in the evening. The lambs would be butchered that afternoon in the Temple, hours before the supper.

“...the Pascha was sacrificed...” The pascha was the lamb butchered and prepared for the Passover meal.

14:13 “...carrying an earthen jar filled with water...” Since this was considered women’s work, a male with such a jar would have been considered usual, to say the least, but was a perfect sign to attract attention.

14:14 “Where is my guestroom...?” Since Passover was a major holiday for religious pilgrimage, Jerusalem swelled to over 120,000 people. In this environment, it’s not surprising Jesus had made prior arrangements to celebrate the holiday in the city proper.

14:15 “...a large, upper room...” That is, on the second story.

“spread out (with carpets and reclining pillows) “ Since Jews ate in the Greek fashion of reclining, carpets and reclining pillows would be proper for this celebration.

The preparation for the Last Supper was unusual but necessary when we view it in context of the gospel. Jesus’ life was in danger, so preparations had to be done in secret. The sign for contact was unusual: a man doing a woman’s chore. While this might have been obvious to the people in the neighborhood, we must remember the city’s population growth at the time of the Passover. The city was bursting with visitors; many households in the city were hosting guests and family members from out of town. The bustle that the holiday brought distracted people. A sign that was obvious to one person would be ignored by another, and, even if the sign were noticed, there would not be time enough to gossip about a man fetching water from the neighborhood pool.

The size of the room implied the Last Supper would be celebrated in a wealthy man’s house in a well-to-do part of the city (possibly the “Upper City?”). While multi-story building were not unusual in ancient times, a banquet room on a second story suggested the owner’s status as a leader in the community. Both economic and political arrangements were negotiated over meals in the homes of leaders; a banquet room indicated the place for such deal-making.

The preparation for the Passover, then, suggested Jesus had a wealthy patron in Jerusalem who felt honored to host the meal for the traveling Rabbi.

Sitting to Eat

17 Being late (in the day), he came with the Twelve. 18 Reclining for the meal with them and eating (with them), JESUS said, “Amen, I say to you that one of you eating with ME will betray ME.” 19 They began to be distressed and , one after another, said to HIM, “Not I?” 20 (HE) said to them, “One of the Twelve, the (one) dipping (his bread) with me into the dish. 21 The SON OF MAN goes just as it is written about him, but woe to the that man by whom the SON OF MAN is betrayed. (It would be) better for him if that man had not been born.”

The Last Supper

22 As they were eating, taking bread, saying the blessing, (HE) broke (it) have gave (it) to them and said, “Take, this is MY body.” 23 Taking the cup, saying the blessing, he gave (it) to them and all (of them) drank from it. 24 (HE) said to them, This is MY blood of the covenant, to be poured out on behalf of the many. 25 Amen I say to you that I will (certainly) no longer drink from the fruit of the vine until that day when (I) MYSELF will drink it anew in the Kingdom of God.” 26 Singing hymns, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

14:22 “saying the blessing...” The Jewish blessing form (know as the “barak”) praised God for the gift of the bread: “Blessed are you, O Lord our God, king of the universe, who cause bread to come forth from the earth.”

14:24 “on behalf of the many” In this case “the many” is not a particular group but is indeterminate.

14:25 “that I will (certainly) no longer drink “ In Greek the phrase “no longer” is modified by a double negative (“I will no longer not not drink...”). The effect is to add extreme emphasis.

14:26 “Singing hymns” These hymns were most likely the Hallel Psalms (Psalms 115-118); singing these psalms were traditional for Passover meal.

Prediction of Peter’s Denial

27 JESUS said to them, “All of you will be scandalized, so it is written ‘I will strike the shepherd and the flock will be dispersed.’ 28 But, after I am raised, you will precede me into Galilee.” 29 Peter said to HIM, “If all will be scandalized, not I.” 30 JESUS said to him, “Amen, I say to you that, today, this night, before the rooster crows twice, (even) you will deny me three times.” 31 But Peter said emphatically, “Even if it is necessary for me to die with YOU, I will never deny YOU.” And all said they same.

14:27 “scandalized” The verb is the same in English as it is in Greek, but the context does not only mean disappointment and disillusionment. The verb also meant abandonment.

14:30 “ before the rooster crows twice” What does this phrase mean? There are three possible explanation. First, one rooster literally crowed as a response to another (just before dawn). Second, the phrase was a idiomatic expression that referred to a Roman bugle call (“gallicinium” in Latin) which announced the end of the third watch (3:00 AM) and a change of the guard. Third, it can simply refer to a time frame when roosters would crow (before dawn).

Mark placed the Last Supper in the context of betrayal. Mark 14:17-21 announced Jesus’ knowledge of the plot against him and the involvement of Judas in that plot. Mark 14:27-31 prophesied the abandonment of the Master by his disciples. Thematically, these two passages created a quasi “stair-step” or “A-B-A” form to highlight the words of institution. In other words, Mark saw the Eucharist in terms of mental anguish. The commitment of intimacy found in the breaking of bread and the sharing of a cup was thread bare. Jesus gave his life to his followers. What did they give in return? Very little beyond bravado.

Two differences between the betrayal of Judas and the abandonment of the disciples were a matter of timing and intent. The prophecy of Judas’ betrayal preceded the Last Supper, while the comment on abandonment was after the self-giving of the Master. Judas would dip the morsel in the common dish along with Jesus, a sign of not only fellowship, but of a interweaved destiny. Judas would be condemned for his duplicity. Those who would abandon Jesus, however, would be forgiven and become witnesses to the Resurrection. Why? They were innocent, without guile. The betrayal and arrest of Jesus would scandalize them and cause their loss of commitment.

The Last Supper glued the two prophecies together and acted as a counterpoint. As the commentary pointed out before, what Jesus did for his followers, they could not do for him. The stair-step format of these passages did put a focus on the institution Eucharist; the betrayal-abandonment comments only heightened that focus. “This is My Body...This I My Blood of the covenant, poured out for many” clearly stated the intent of Jesus; he would give is all for his followers. This gift would be fulfilled only with the realization of the Kingdom, when the Lord would “drink of the fruit of the vine anew.” That fulfillment would come in the Resurrection.

How has the Passion narrative strengthened your faith commitment?

Jesus prepared himself for his death. He tried to prepare his followers. Next, we will see the results of that preparation. Let us keep in mind that his words to us, his followers, were not to console our loss, but to look beyond to his glory.

Take the time this week to walk the way of the cross with the Lord. Reflect on your weaknesses and your need for the Master.