Jesus’ Last and Our First Supper
(Article Published in the March 28,2013 issue of Business Mirror)
We, Filipinos, like to eat. Eating is always part of our celebration of important personal events. We eat when we are happy; we eat when we are sad. We eat at anticipations; we eat at endings. We take eating on special occasions for granted and, for that reason, do not find it unusual that Jesus Christ had His last supper before His passion started with a betrayal and a kiss.
Yet, current bible exegetes tell us that event at the upper room was not a last minute nutritional preparation for a big test nor a final salvo at gustatory delight before plunging into the sea of misery . Questions of history and theology provoke interesting discussions and debates, and, suggest that we take a closer look at the event.
My main references are Book II of “Jesus of Nazareth” by headliner Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI and, by his recent resignation, Pope Emeritus. I also pick up some ideas from “The Last Week” by interesting gentlemen Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan. Borg grew up Lutheran, married and had children and taught at a public university in Oregon. Crossan was a Catholic; he became a monk and a priest and taught at a Catholic university in Chicago. Both, despite their heavy subject, are light reading even for fasting stomachs and alcohol-free blood streams.
An initial issue is when, vis-a-vis the passion, the Last Supper occurred and whether it was a Passover Meal. We readily assume it was in the evening before the crucifixion because, by Mark, we are told that it happened “on the first day of Unleavened Bread” (14:12). That was the day when the paschal lambs were slaughtered in the Temple, the vigil of the Passover feast which on that year fell on a Friday.
Mark has credibility because he exhibits a penchant, almost an obsession, for stating in detail the various times of key stages of the last days. He chronicles the arrest at Gethsemane at night, the condemnation to death by Pilate on Friday morning, the carrying of the cross “around the third hour”, or about nine o’clock and died on “the ninth hour,” about three o’clock in the afternoon. Clearly such flowing narration, ipsa loquitur, appears worthy of belief.
The problem, though, is that, Mark’s story has internal improbabilities. It seems unbelievable that trial before the Roman ruler and execution of his sentence would have been acceptable to the Jews on their singular and great feast. Rarely has history recorded such consonance between foreign rulers and their native subjects.
Moreover, Mark himself reports that two days before the feast of the Unleavened Bread, those who were plotting to kill the Christ discussed and, after due deliberation, decided against killing him “during the feast, lest there be a tumult of the people.” Like the killers of Ninoy Aquino, some argued for the doing of their deed before their intended victim could join his crowd of supporters. Hence, the urgency of shooting at him while still in relative isolation, at the tarmac.
If therefore the thinking that prevailed was not to kill Jesus during the feast, then the dating of Mark is faulty since Good Friday was the precisely the feast itself.
Though Mark’s chronology was roughly followed by Matthew and Luke, John’s sequence of events seems more plausible. John shows deliberate intent to prove that the last supper was not a Passover meal. John states that when Jesus was dragged into Pilate’s court, the leaders of the jews did not enter the praetorium precisely “so that they might not be defiled, but might eat the Passover.”
The fact that Christ’s death, as per John’s narrative coincides with the killing of the lambs, in preparation for the meal, is, not surprisingly taken as indication that John’s chronology was “theological”, i.e. intended to prove a point of theology, that Jesus was the Lamb of God, rather than historical fact.
So, the demarcation line between the Synoptics and John is on whether the last supper was or was not the Passover Meal.
Attempts were thus made by exegetes to reconcile the Synoptics with John. A French scholar, Annie Jaubert, basing her theory on ancient Hebrew texts, came up with the startling idea that the Last Supper was on a Tuesday. Jaubert argues that, based on the Book of Jubilees, produced some century and a half before Christ, liturgical feasts fell on the same weekday every year. For the Passover, this meant the fifteenth day of Nisan is a Wednesday and the Passover meal was eaten after sunset on Tuesday evening. Thus, according to Jaubert, the Synoptics were correct since the last supper was taken after sunset, and therefore was a Passover meal. But, John is also correct because the Jewish authorities of that time, using a different calendar from their ancients, had Jesus executed on the vigil of, and not on the feast of, the Passover itself. A crucial question solved by the difference in the calendar consulted.
There are other points to raise on the Last Supper, and dating is one of the “less” problematic. What is certain, I submit, is that, all things considered, the Last Supper was Jesus last, but, thankfully by reason of what he did therein, our first.