14 When the time came, Yeshua and the emissaries reclined at the table, 15 and he said to them, “I have really wanted so much to celebrate this Meal with you before I die! 16 For I tell you, it is certain that I will not celebrate it again until it is given its full meaning in the Kingdom of God.”
17 Then, taking a cup of wine, he made the blessing and said, “Take this and share it among yourselves. 18 For I tell you that from now on, I will not drink the ‘fruit of the vine’ until the Kingdom of God comes.” 19 Also, taking a piece of unleavened bread, he made the blessing, broke it, gave it to them and said, “This is my body, which is being given for you; do this in memory of me.” 20 He did the same with the cup after the meal, saying, “This cup is the New Covenant, ratified by my blood, which is being poured out for you.
21 “But look! The person who is betraying me is here at the table with me! 22 The Son of Man is going to his death according to God’s plan, but woe to that man by whom he is being betrayed!” 23 They began asking each other which of them could be about to do such a thing.
24 An argument arose among them as to which of them should be considered the greatest. 25 But Yeshua said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are given the title, ‘Benefactor.’ 26 But not so with you! On the contrary, let the greater among you become like the younger, and one who rules like one who serves. 27 For who is greater? The one reclining at the table? or the one who serves? It’s the one reclining at the table, isn’t it? But I myself am among you like one who serves.
Luke may have used Mark’s gospel at this point, but he probably also had another source of information about the Meal, and he chose to place the story of the disciples’ argument about greatness at this point. Only Luke gives Jesus’ words, “I am among you like one who serves.”
Luke also prefaces the Meal with Jesus’ warm words about his longing to share the Meal before his death. He wants to emphasise Jesus’ affection for his disciples. That raises the question as to who attended this Meal. The gospels limit it to the 12 apostles, which is after all a symbolic number, representing the new Israel. Jesus had more disciples than that, including women. We should interpret Luke’s “the 12″ as including the whole family of disciples.
Luke shows Jesus’ correctly beginning the Meal with a the sharing of wine and a blessing, accompanied by his words of self- dedication, that he will not drink wine until the kingdom has come. Then he shares the unleavened bread, the sign of the exodus from slavery in Egypt, which he identifies with his own body, given for his disciples. Their liberation will come through his death. There is an unspoken parallel here between Jesus and the firstborn of the Egyptians whose deaths allowed Israel to escape. In this case it’s the child of God who is struck by the Angel of death. Luke means his audience to see this parallel and to appreciate that Jesus, the Son of Man and representative of the humane Rule of God, will suffer on their behalf because he alone will be faithful to that Rule, he alone will oppose the powers of evil to the end.
The second cup of wine, after the Meal, is identified with Jesus’ blood, with his death on the execution stake, which in turn is said to ratify the New Covenant. This replaces the Mosaic covenant, which was sealed with the blood of a sacrificed animal. Here Jesus takes the place of the victim; he offers himself so that his people may conclude a new agreement with God. This must not be interpreted in a ritualistic way. As Jesus’ whole ministry had been an identification with the victims of power and religion, his death is the inevitable conclusion of that ministry, opening up for his people a new agreement with God’s Rule which takes the side of the victim. Luke has Jesus say that his blood is poured out ‘for you”, that is for his disciples, his people, which is in plain contradiction to Mark’s gospel which quotes Jesus as saying it is poured out “for many”, a Jewish away of saying, “for all nations.”
In all the gospels the betrayer is present at the meal, and known to the reader. Luke follows Mark in understanding Jesus’ death as part of a divine mission (part of God’s plan) which however does not remove the guilt of the traitor. Nowhere is the gospel tradition is there any notion of forgiveness for Judas.
He however is not presented as the only opposition to Jesus from within the group of disciples. Luke places the dispute about status at this point. He does so in order to show that the longing for power is an utter contradiction to the way of Jesus, symbolised in the Meal. Jesus’ reply which is found only in Luke, exposes the arrogance of worldly rulers and the flattery given to great men, and points to the Meal as a model of his way, which is to be theirs. He, the master, is amongst them like a servant. He, the representative of God’s Rule will perform the true service of dying for liberation of God’s people; he, in identification with the victims, will seal God’s new agreement with humanity.
Jesus’ upside down model of hierarchy has not much been followed in his churches, at least since the time when the church became allied with the Roman Empire. Especially those churches that celebrate the Meal of Jesus with great pomp and ceremony, should look to its plain meaning and turn towards the one who is amongst them as a servant. No amount of pious nonsense about humility can excuse clergy who live in security and affluence.
But in truth all believers bring their sins and treachery to the table of Jesus. I always, like the disciples, ask, “Lord, is it me, the traitor?” And the answer is always the nod and the smile that says,”yes.”