The Jewish festival of Passover focuses on the covenant with Abraham, liberation, and God’s protection. It is not clear how people practiced the Passover meal in Jesus’ day. Documents describing the meal come only from about 50 years after Jesus’ time. Mark’s description of the elements in Jesus’ final meal, however, are common to ordinary Jewish meals: bread, wine, a blessing.
The extraordinary feature is what Jesus says after the blessing. Judaism forbids eating blood in meat (Genesis 9:4). Priests collected the drained blood of a sacrificed animal and threw it against the side of the altar. In preparing meat, the blood of the animal had to be removed by repeated salting and washing. Yet as Jesus eats with fellow Jews, he uses bread and wine to refer to eating flesh and drinking blood. This would have been shocking even in a symbolic sense.
When Jesus says, “This is my body” and “This is my blood,” he may be echoing sacrificial words regularly spoken at the temple. Yet rather than animal flesh on the temple’s altar, Jesus calls the bread that flesh. Rather than animal blood dashed against the temple altar, Jesus says this wine now takes its place. This bread and wine still demonstrate the blood of the covenant but in a new way. In the quickly arriving “hour” of which Jesus speaks in verse 41, Jesus himself is the embodiment of the new covenant and new kingdom.
During the meal, Jesus announces that one of his followers will betray him. The disciples are distressed and each one, in turns, says to Jesus, “Surely, not I?” In the scene that follows in verses 27–50, Jesus announces, using words from Zechariah 13:7, that all of them will desert him. Peter impulsively says that everyone else may deny Jesus, but he never will. Jesus responds that Peter will deny him not once but three times before dawn.
Jesus goes with the disciples to Gethsemane, and they disappoint him three times by falling asleep, even though he has asked them to stay awake while he prays. In Gethsemane, Jesus’ solitary prayer is the poignant element. Jesus prays to “Abba” (“daddy” is the English equivalent to this intimate Aramaic address) and implores God to take away the “cup” of his suffering and death. He concludes, though, by deferring to God’s will.
As the night grows dark and the authorities come to arrest Jesus, Mark’s themes now all come together:
- about seeing, hearing, and understanding;
- about Jesus as the shepherd and as the bread;
- about Jesus as embodying the new covenant.
Mark’s puzzle pieces are falling into place, yet the disciples cannot see the bigger picture.
- Why is that?
- What blinded them to Jesus’ teachings?
- What blinds us from seeing God’s vision and purpose today?
Open my eyes, Lord, to your purpose and will for my life. When I feel alone, help me to know and trust you as my loving parent. Amen.
This Bible study comes from Shine: Living in God’s Light, the Sunday school curriculum published by Brethren Press and MennoMedia.