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Pesha (Holy) Thursday

Holy Week

HOLY (PESAHA) THURSDAY
LUKE 22:7-13 + JOHN 13:1-15 + LUKE 22:15-21
(THE LAST SUPPER, WASHING OF THE FEET,
AND INSTITUTION OF THE HOLY QURBANA)

INTRODUCTION

On Holy or Pesaha Thursday we commemorate with Jesus, the old and new Passovers. In the original Passover, Israel recalls her liberation from Egyptian slavery by sacrificing an unblemished lamb. In the new Passover, we commemorate Jesus’ action of saving all humanity from Satan’s clutches by offering himself as the sacrificial lamb. The rite of circumcision that involved the drawing of a little human blood was a sign of the covenant with Abraham. God confirmed that covenant by asking Moses to sprinkle animal blood on the Israelites at Mount Sinai. Jesus sealed a new covenant in his blood and asks us to partake of it by drinking it. To prepare for this, we also join in Jesus’ washing of the feet of his disciples as a pledge of our humble service and the cleanliness of our souls. The celebration of the Pesaha Thursday is a combination of several remembrances: (1) Jesus washing the feet of his disciples and teaching the importance of servant leadership in the church, (2) Institution of the Holy Eucharist as the new covenantal relationship whereby we receive the precious body and blood of Jesus, (3) Establishment of priesthood by asking the apostles to continue the Holy Eucharist in Jesus’ remembrance, (4) Jesus going to the Garden of Gethsemane for prayer in distress. Let us learn from these examples and teachings of Jesus.

BIBLE TEXT (LUKE 22:7-13 + JOHN 13:1-15 + LUKE 22:15-21)

The Preparation for the Passover

(Lk 22:7) Then came the feast of the Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. (8) So Jesus sent Peter and John saying, “Go and get everything ready for us to eat the Passover meal.” (9) They asked him, “Where do you want us to prepare it?” (10) And he said, “When you enter the city, a man will come to you carrying a jar of water. Follow him to the house he enters and (11) say to the owner: ‘The master asks: where is the room where I may eat the Passover meal with my disciples?’ (12) He will show you a large, furnished room upstairs, and there you will prepare for us.” (13) Peter and John went off and having found everything just as Jesus had told them, they prepared the Passover meal.

Jesus Washes the Disciples’ Feet

(Jn 13:1) It was before the Feast of the Passover. Jesus realized that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. Having always loved those who were his own in the world, he loved them to the end. (2) They were at supper; and the devil had already put into the mind of Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray him. (3) Jesus knowing that the Father had entrusted all things to him, and as he had come from God, and was going to God, (4) got up from the table, removed his outer garment, and taking a towel wrapped it around his waist. (5) Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel he was wearing. (6) When he came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, do you mean to wash my feet!” (7) Jesus said, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterwards you will understand it.” (8) Peter replied, “No, you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you can have no part with me.” (9) Then Simon Peter said, “Then, Lord, wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head!” (10) Jesus replied, “Whoever has taken a bath does not need to wash, except the feet, for he is clean all over. You are clean, though not all of you.” (11) Jesus knew who was to betray him; that is why he said, “Not all of you are clean.” (12) When Jesus had finished washing their feet, he put on his outer garment again, went back to the table and said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? (13) You call me Master and Lord, and you are right, for that is what I am. (14) If I, then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you also must wash one another’s feet. (15) I have just given you an example so that you also should do as I have done.

The Last Supper & Institution of Holy Qurbana

(Lk 22:15) And he said to them, “How much I have longed to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; (16) for, I tell you, I shall not eat it again until it finds its completion in the kingdom of God.” (17) Then he took a cup and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this and share it among yourselves: (18) for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” (19) Then Jesus took the bread, and after giving thanks, he broke it and gave it to them saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (20) And he did the same with the cup after the meal, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood which is poured out for you. (21) But the hand of the traitor is with me on the table.

INTERPRETATION

Background

Jesus spent the last week of his life in Jerusalem teaching in the temple area and staying during the night at the Mount of Olives. Early each morning, people used to come to the temple area to listen to him (Lk 21:37-38). Though the chief priests and the scribes attempted to arrest Jesus, they could not do so because of the surrounding admirers. The Jewish leaders bribed Judas Iscariot to help them arrest Jesus when he was free from the crowd (Lk 22:1-6). Prompted by Satan, Judas agreed to that deal. In the meantime, Jesus prepared for this last Passover celebration with his apostles.

The Preparation for the Passover

(Lk 22:7) Then came the feast of the Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed.

the feast of the Unleavened Bread

When God delivered the Israelites under the leadership of Moses, God asked them to celebrate Passover. Since they had to leave Egypt immediately after that in a hurry, they could not wait to leaven the bread. So, God asked the Israelites to celebrate annually the feast of the Unleavened Bread for one week to remember gratefully this historical event. “The fifteenth day of this month is the LORD’s feast of Unleavened Bread. For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread” (Lev 23:6).

Israel had to give up all their sinful ways in Egypt and follow the Lord to the promised land. Since leaven was a symbol of sin, part of Passover preparation was the scrupulous removal of all leaven from the house before the celebration.

on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed.

Since Luke wrote for non-Jewish readers, he clarified the main content of the Passover celebration, which is the sacrifice of a Passover lamb. According to Paul, Christ is the paschal lamb sacrificed for us (1 Cor 5:7).

(8) So Jesus sent Peter and John saying, “Go and get everything ready for us to eat the Passover meal.”

Jesus sent Peter and John saying

Jesus took the initiative to set up for his last Passover meal. He had sent two disciples to get the colt for his solemn entry into Jerusalem. Later, he sent probably the same disciples to prepare the Passover meal.

Peter and John

Jesus had 72 disciples like the elders of the Old Testament or the Sanhedrin, 12 apostles representing the 12 tribes of Israel, and the apostles Peter, James, and John as an inner circle. However, Jesus selected Peter and James for preparing the last Passover. That might have caused them to develop a good companionship. The following are the combined activities of Peter and John recorded in the Bible:  

1. Though the evangelists do not give the names of the two disciples Jesus sent to get the donkey for his solemn entry to Jerusalem, many believe that they must be Peter and John (Mt 21:1; Mk 11:1).

2. Jesus assigned both of them to prepare the Passover meal for Jesus and his apostles (Lk 22:8). 

3. When Jesus revealed during the last supper that one of the twelve would betray him, Peter nodded to John to find out whom he meant (Jn 13:21-24).

4. Peter and John accompanied Jesus to the high priests’ residence during the trial of Jesus (Jn 18:15).

5. Peter and John were the first apostles who went to the tomb of Jesus when Mary Magdalene told them about the empty tomb (Jn 20:3).

6. During the post resurrection appearance of Jesus at the Sea of Galilee, John said to Peter, “It is the Lord” (Jn 21:7).

7. When Jesus told Peter with what kind of death he would glorify God, Peter’s concern was only about John (Jn 21:18-22).

8. After the Pentecost, Peter and John went to the Temple when Peter healed a crippled beggar (Acts 3:1-10), at the preaching of Peter, the Temple authorities confronted them, put them in custody, and on the next day the Sanhedrin questioned them (Acts 3:11-4:22).

9. “When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the holy Spirit” (Acts 8:14-15).

“Go and get everything ready for us to eat the Passover meal.”

There were several items to be prepared for the Passover meal. The step-by-step preparations, along with how they apply for the sacrifice of Jesus as the Pascal lamb, are:

1. Selection of the lamb on the tenth of Nisan: Each family would select a one-year-old unblemished male lamb for the sacrifice. In Jesus’ case, he stood in for the unblemished male lamb, whom the family of Israel had selected and brought to the Temple, and the priests approved him for slaughter. This happened on the Palm Sunday that was the tenth of Nisan. The slaughter would take place in the Temple on the 15th of Nisan that starts at 6:00 p.m. on the 14th, according to the Gregorian calendar and ends at 6:00 p.m. on the 15th. According to the Jewish calendar, Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist, and the soldiers crucified him on the same date, 15th of Nisan.

2. Searching Leaven on 13th of Nisan: The family would check and remove any leaven in the house based on God’s commandment: “For seven days, no leaven shall be seen throughout your territory” (Deut 16:4). Jesus did this on Palm Sunday by expelling the unjust merchants who defiled the House of God and clearing their livestock from the Temple area. 

3. Foot washing on 14th of Nisan: When the guests and family members arrive at the house for the Passover meal, a slave or servant would wash their feet. Since his disciples did not perform this, Jesus did this for them during the meal, which was unusual. It was to teach them how they should follow his ‘servant leadership’ in their ministry.

4. Table setting: The family sets the Passover table Charoseth (a sweet dark-colored paste made of fruits and nuts), unleavened bread, vegetables, vinegar (karpas), four wine glasses, red and warm wine bottles, and several candles. The people would recline with the support of pillows around a low table about 18 inches high. They arrange seating according to the age or social position of the participants.

(9) They asked him, “Where do you want us to prepare it?”

Jesus had used different houses or locations for his stay during his visit to Jerusalem. So, the implied question of Peter and James to Jesus was in whose house they had to prepare the Passover meal. The preparation procedure for the Passover lamb was: People brought the Passover lambs at the Temple Mount, and they killed their animals in the courtyard of the Temple. The priests collected the blood of the sacrifice in silver and gold basins and tossed the blood on the altar. After the sacrifice, the owners flayed the animals and took them home and roasted (https://jewishroots.net/library/holiday-articles/passover-lamb-sacrifice-procedure.html).

“No bones might be broken either during the cooking or during the eating. The lamb was set on the table at the evening banquet, and was eaten by the assembled company after all had satisfied their appetites with the ḥagigah or other food. The sacrifice had to be consumed entirely that same evening, nothing being allowed to remain overnight. While eating it, the entire company of those who partook was obliged to remain together, and every participant had to take a piece of the lamb at least as large as an olive” (https://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/11934-passover-sacrifice).

Did Peter and John offer a Passover Lamb for Jesus and the apostles is not clear. Most probably, they had offered a lamb and brought it as part of the Passover meal because it was essential for Passover observance. However, later, Jesus substituted himself as the lamb for the new Passover for Christians.

(10) And he said, “When you enter the city, a man will come to you carrying a jar of water. Follow him to the house he enters and …”

When you enter the city

Jesus stayed at Bethany with the other ten disciples while Peter and John went to prepare the Passover meal. It must be in Jerusalem because the Passover sacrifice could not take place anywhere else. “You shall offer the Passover sacrifice from your flock and your herd to the LORD, your God, in the place the LORD will choose as the dwelling place of his name” (Deut 16:2). So, the city Jesus referred to was Jerusalem, where the lamb has to be sacrificed and eaten with a Passover meal.

A man will come to you carrying a jar of water.

With his divine vision, Jesus could foresee what would happen when the disciples enter the city. There was no running water in the houses. Usually, ladies went to fetch water from the nearby well or fountain. So, a man carrying a jar of water was an unusual sight. However, according to the Jewish custom, the master of the house had to draw the water on the 13th of Nisan before the stars appeared in the heavens, to knead the unleavened bread for the Passover. Most probably, the Passover was held in the upper room of Mark’s house (Acts 12:12) whose mother Mary was a follower of Jesus. The man who carried the water might be Mark, who is believed to be one of the 70 (72) disciples of Jesus. Hence, the master of the house was his father, Aristopolos.

Follow him to the house he enters

Since the man who carried the water was not the house owner, Peter and John must follow him to the house he entered and meet the owner. It was like Jesus sent two disciples to get the donkey (Lk 19:29-31). They believed and obeyed what Jesus told them to do.

(11) say to the owner: ‘The master asks: where is the room where I may eat the Passover meal with my disciples?’

Many people in Palestine used to have an upper room allotted for prayer, gatherings, or for guests. Jesus might have used such a room of the owner during his previous visits to Jerusalem. “Say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”’ (Mk 14:14). Jesus had previously arranged that room with the owner for his last Passover meal. Since Mark’s parents were rich, their upper room could accommodate those 13 people to recline and eat the food. Jesus’ team also had enough people to eat one Passover lamb (Ex 12:3-4).

(12) He will show you a large, furnished room upstairs, and there you will prepare for us.

Jesus was sure that the house owner would accept his request to allow the upper room for his use. Jesus might have asked the house owner beforehand to set up the room for his Passover observance with the disciples. So, he was sure that the room was already furnished, and the disciples had only to prepare the Passover meal there.

The house should belong to a wealthy admirer of Jesus, like Joseph of Arimathea or Nicodemus. Many believe that it belonged to the parents of Mark. His family was wealthy, with at least one maidservant, Rhoda (Acts 12:13). Besides using for the Last Supper, the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to the disciples happened in this room. The early Christian community had used this upper room for prayer (Acts 1:13). The Holy Spirit came on the disciples in this upper room on the day of Pentecost. Peter preached to the people gathered on the day of Pentecost from here and converted 3,000 people (Acts 2:14-41). So, this became the first Christian house.

(13) Peter and John went off and having found everything just as Jesus had told them, they prepared the Passover meal.

Everything took place, as Jesus told Peter and John. When they reached the city, they saw the man who came towards them carrying a jar of water. They followed him to the house and found the owner. The house-owner showed them the upper room already furnished for the Passover meal. The apostles prepared the Passover meal there, including the cooked Paschal lamb.

Jesus Washes the Disciples’ Feet

(Jn 13:1) It was before the Feast of the Passover. Jesus realized that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. Having always loved those who were his own in the world, he loved them to the end.

It was before the Feast of the Passover

Jesus’ Last Supper was a Jewish Passover meal that reminded the Israelites of how God delivered them from the Egyptian slavery. It also reminded them of how their forefathers slew unblemished lambs and marked their blood on the doorposts of their houses so that the angel would spare their first-born children from death. Jesus replaced the lamb’s blood with his own blood as the Lamb of God. He marked it on his cross, the new door to heaven, so he could save the lives of the children in faith from eternal destruction.

Jesus realized that his hour had come

We often hear in the gospels that Jesus’ hour had not yet come. His hour is the time “to pass from this world to the Father” (Jn 13:1) by fulfilling his mission through his passion, death, and resurrection. The evangelist says that the hour had arrived, and Jesus knew it.

To pass from this world to the Father

Death for Jesus and his followers is a passage from this world to God the Father. Like the Israelites’ passage from the slavery of Egypt to the Promised Land, we also pass from the bondage of sin in this world to eternal joy in heaven.

Having always loved those who were his own in the world

Jesus made his own those who left everything and followed him. He loved them like his family. Jesus was the head of the family, and the apostles were his “little children” (Jn 13:33). The time came for Jesus to depart from this world to his Father. However, he promised them he would not leave them as orphans (Jn 14:18). This description gives the mood of how Jesus and his apostles felt at the time during their farewell and how much Jesus loved and cared for them. John the Evangelist who documented this was an eyewitness to this event, along with the other apostles.

He loved them to the end

Jesus loved his own to the end of his life and affirmed it by offering his life for their salvation. His love would continue from heaven by supporting them in their mission until the end of this world. We notice Jesus’ love to the end of his life on the cross by entrusting Mary and John to each other, by promising paradise to the repentant criminal crucified with him, and even forgiving and praying for those who persecuted him. He continued his love by appearing to his loved ones after his resurrection and sending the Holy Spirit upon them on the day of Pentecost.

(2) They were at supper; and the devil had already put into the mind of Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray him.

The Evangelist John adds here Judas’ intention to betray Jesus for money under the devil’s influence. By this, John reveals what was going on in the minds of Jesus and Judas in the gloomy context of that farewell Passover. The contrast in the mental states of Jesus and Judas that no one else knew gives the readers a dramatic mood of the situation.

(3) Jesus knowing that the Father had entrusted all things to him, and as he had come from God, and was going to God …

This verse of the power of Jesus that he inherited from his Father sets the background for the humble act of washing the apostles’ feet. Before returning to his Father, Jesus wished to set a memorable example for his apostles, who had been jostling amongst themselves for noble positions.

(4) … got up from the table, removed his outer garment, and taking a towel wrapped it around his waist.

Got up from the table

Since the people walked barefoot or wore sandals, washing of feet was the practice before entering a residence. They used to eat the meal reclining so the feet might be on the sofa and close to the face of the person reclining nearby. So, they needed to wash their feet before entering a house. A slave, servant, or host (Lk 7:44) would wash the feet of the guest as a traditional gesture of honoring and welcoming the person (Gen 18:4).

Since the apostles had no host or servant to wash the feet, they skipped it. None of the apostles wanted to be at the service of others, not even to wash the feet of their Lord. So, they might have started the supper by washing themselves and without the ceremonial washing of feet. Jesus had noticed it and taught them a lesson by making himself a humble servant of his disciples. According to the Jewish practice, washing the feet should take place before the Passover celebration and not during the supper as Jesus did.

Removed his outer garment, and taking a towel wrapped it around his waist

The evangelist gives a graphic presentation of how Jesus taught the lesson of Servant Leadership to his disciples. While serving, the servant used to take off his outer garment and tie a towel around his waist for practical reasons. Jesus needed the towel to wipe the wet feet of the apostles at the end of foot washing. The apostles were amazed when they saw Jesus dressed like a servant. They did not understand what he would do. Jesus used symbolic and dramatic actions, like some prophets of the past, to convey strong and memorable messages to the people. He was fulfilling what he had said earlier. “I am among you as the one who serves” (Lk 22:27). “Be like the Son of Man who has come not to be served but to serve, and to give his life to redeem many” (Mt 20:28). Thus, the incarnate God did the menial job of a slave for his subjects.

(5) Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel he was wearing.

The family used to keep towel, washbasin, and a jug of water inside the house for repeated washing of hands in between different courses of food during the meal. Jesus used them for the feet washing. He did not seek the help of anyone in this service, like pouring water into the basin. He did everything himself, like a humble slave. According to the custom of the time, if there was no slave or a servant, an inferior would wash the feet of a superior like a wife to her husband, children to the parents, disciples to the master; but not vice versa. By doing this act, Jesus touched the hearts and minds of his disciples. Besides washing their feet, Jesus was affectionately wiping the feet clean with the towel girded around his waist.

After the feet washing, Jesus had the intention of establishing the Holy Eucharist. So, by this action, Jesus was also symbolically cleaning their souls. That is a lesson for us to clean ourselves spiritually before receiving the Holy Communion.

(6) When he came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, do you mean to wash my feet!”

He came to Simon Peter

Scholars differ on whose feet Jesus washed first. Some say he washed the feet of Judas first; while others say he did it first to Simon Peter.

“Lord, do you mean to wash my feet!”

Peter was an outspoken person. His questioning the master for washing his feet was a natural reaction from his humility and respect for the master.

(7) Jesus said, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterwards you will understand it.”

Jesus later clarified the meaning of what he did in John 13:13-17. He instructed, “If I, then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you also must wash one another’s feet” (Jn 13:14).

“No, you shall never wash my feet”

Though Jesus mentioned they would understand the meaning of his actions later, Peter objected to Jesus washing his feet out of his reverence for his master. The apostles did not understand why Jesus did it. In Jesus’ mind, he was preparing his disciples to receive the Holy Eucharist that he planned to establish after the feet washing. This washing gave them warning that they should humble themselves to serve and purify themselves to administer and to receive the Holy Eucharist that they would continue in their lives.

If I do not wash you

Whenever Jesus had a theological discussion, he would switch from a material sense to a spiritual understanding, as he did with Nicodemus (Jn 3:1-21) and the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:4-42). In this discussion with Peter, Jesus shifted the focus from washing off physical dirt to cleansing from spiritual sin with his precious blood and the Holy Spirit. For Jesus, feet washing was not limited to the feet but symbolizes washing the whole person. So, he said, “I wash you.”

You can have no part with me

Jesus would inherit the Kingdom of God after his passion, death, and resurrection. He presented washing Peter with the blood and Holy Spirit as a requirement for him to inherit with Jesus the Kingdom of God in heaven. By addressing this to Peter, Jesus offered all his disciples a partnership with him in the Kingdom he would inherit from his Father. For that, we also must wash away our sins in the blood of Jesus and receive his Holy Spirit. Only those whom Christ washed will have a part in the church and in the heavenly kingdom.

Jesus will clean our hearts, provided we let him do it. The cooperation from our part is that we approach for the Sacrament of Reconciliation that Jesus established and offered us through the church.

(9) Then Simon Peter said, “Then, Lord, wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head!”

Peter did not understand what Jesus meant. He continued to take the washing in the literal sense. So, out of enthusiasm, he asked the Lord to wash his hands and head, the uncovered parts of his body. He was ready to offer anything to inherit the Kingdom of God with Jesus. So, he requested Jesus to cleanse all actions of his hands and all the thoughts of his head.

(10) Jesus replied, “Whoever has taken a bath does not need to wash, except the feet, for he is clean all over. You are clean, though not all of you.”

Whoever has taken a bath does not need to wash, except the feet, for he is clean all over.

Here also, Jesus has a physical and spiritual meaning in the statement. Those who come from the bath need only to wash off the dust or dirt from the feet. In the spiritual sense, those who received Baptism in the blood of Jesus and his Holy Spirit need only a cleansing, like the Sacrament of Reconciliation or an act of contrition. Only after that shall he partake in the Holy Eucharist, which is a foretaste of the eternal banquet in heaven.

You are clean, though not all of you

Jesus here revealed an exception, though only he knew who the person was. Jesus washed Judas in the baptism of Christ and thus made him clean. However, the devil entered his heart and polluted it to love wealth more than the Lord, and to betray his master for money.

(11) Jesus knew who was to betray him; that is why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

Jesus knew what was in Judas’ mind while he was taking part in the Last Supper and the washing of the feet. Jesus was polite not to identify the person who would betray him. Judas heard Jesus’ words as a warning to him. However, he was so attached to wealth that he could not resist the temptation and accept the discourse of Jesus. Those who are under the devil’s possession will not be willing to open their minds to the Word of God. Those who are slaves of terrible addiction would avoid any spiritual warning.

(12) When Jesus had finished washing their feet, he put on his outer garment again, went back to the table and said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you?

After washing the feet, Jesus took the position back as the master to instruct them and to share the Passover meal with them. People ate meals in a reclining position during those days. They did the Passover meal in Egypt standing. Later they did it reclining, to show their relaxation and freedom because of their redemption from slavery.

Do you understand what I have done to you?

Jesus raised this question, not expecting an answer from the apostles, but to get their attention for his interpretation that followed.

(13) You call me Master and Lord, and you are right, for that is what I am.

Students were not used to calling their teacher by name among the Jews. So, they called “teacher,” “Master” or “Lord” with respect.

(14) If I, then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you also must wash one another’s feet.

Jesus, who washed his disciples’ feet like a slave, also emphasized his position above them by repeating and reversing the words “Master and Lord” to magnify their role to be servants to one another regardless of their position in the community. It is not a suggestion, but a commandment is clear from the term “you must.” Jesus had shown his law of humility and service in action.

(15) I have just given you an example so that you also should do as I have done.

I have just given you an example

Jesus was not only teaching people what to do and what to avoid but was presenting himself as an example to follow. Though God, he humbled himself, took the form of a human, and showed through his life of humility and servitude, the lifestyle expected from a Christian with the promise of resurrection and glorification in heaven.

so that you also should do as I have done.

A significant contribution of Jesus to humanity is a revised concept of leadership in the religious and secular world. He taught this in the background of the Jewish and pagan leaders of the time. About the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus said, “Do not follow their example. For they preach, but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens [hard to carry] and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen. … The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Mt 23:3-12). Referring to the gentile leaders, Jesus taught his disciples, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:25-28). We must follow Jesus, who is “meek and humble of heart” (Mt 11:29).

Based on what Peter learned from Jesus, the first pope advised his fellow presbyters, “Tend the flock of God in your midst, [overseeing] not by constraint but willingly, as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly. Do not lord it over those assigned to you but be examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd is revealed, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Pet 5:2-4). This advice applies to all Christians in their service for their family, workplace, and society.

The Last Supper

Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist (Qurbana) while he celebrated the Passover with his disciples in an upper room in Jerusalem. So, we need to understand the Last Supper in the background of the Jewish Passover. Israelites celebrated Passover, one of the three pilgrim feasts, in Jerusalem (Lev 23:4-14, Deut 16:1-8). They sacrificed a lamb in the Temple and took its meat home to eat as the Passover meal. They followed Seder, which means an “order” for the procedure of Paschal feast. This procedure has 15 steps with prayers given in a book known as Haggadah. The fifteen corresponds to the 15th day of Nissan when Passover starts or the 15 semi-circular steps from the Court of Women to the Court of Israel in the Temple. Levites sang the fifteen “Psalms of the Steps” (Ps 120-134 of Degrees or Ascents) with musical instruments there.

THE 15 STEPS OF THE PASSOVER MEAL

Step 1. Kadeish (Sanctification): The head of the family who sits at the place of honor would take the first of the four wine cups and fill it with wine mixed with water (grape juice for children) and pronounce a thanksgiving over it. He would taste it first and then pass it to all present. The four cups of wine stand for the four “I will,” in Exodus 6:6-7. “I will free you from the burden of the Egyptians (The Cup of Sanctification) and I will deliver you from their bondage (The Cup of Deliverance); I will redeem you with the blows of my powerful hand and my mighty acts of judgement (The Cup of Redemption). I will take you for my people and I will be your God (The Cup of Restoration); you will realize that I am the LORD your God who delivered you from the burden of the Egyptians” (Ex 6:6-7).

Step 2. Urchatz (Washing of Hands): Participants wash their hands by pouring water on the right hand three times and then the left hand three times to prepare for eating the herbs dipped in saltwater. This was necessary because they were eating without using utensils like the spoon and fork.

Step 3. Karpas or Bitter Herbs (parsley): People eat karpas after dipping it in saltwater. The vegetable is symbolic of Israelites’ poor background, and the saltwater represents their tears shed in Egypt during slavery and throughout their history. The saltwater also reminds them of the crossing of the Red Sea with God’s providence while leaving Egypt. Then they pour wine into the second cup.

Step 4. Yachatz (Breaking of middle matzo bread): The family places three loaves of matzo bread in three pockets of matzo cover. Matzo bread is an unleavened flatbread with stripes and piercings on it, symbolic of the scourging and nailing of the Messiah according to the Christian interpretation. These three loaves of bread, according to the Christian interpretation, stand for the Most Holy Trinity. The head of the family breaks the middle bread standing for the Messiah into two pieces, reminding the broken body of Christ for our sins. The leader returns the smaller piece symbolic of the “bread of affliction” to the pocket and keeps the larger one representing Pesach Sacrifice in a hidden place in another cover. For Christians, this stands for the burial of Jesus.

Step 5. Magid (Storytelling) of Exodus from Egypt as a question-answer session. The youngest son, or the least significant person, would ask four questions about why that night differs from the banquet of other nights. The head of the family would give the answers and clarify the significance of the special food items. Participants then drink the second cup of wine. They then recite the first half of the Hallel, Ps 113-114.

Step 6. Rachtzah (Second handwashing): The participants wash their hands a second time with a blessing to prepare for eating the matzah, the unleavened bread. The family then serve Paschal Lamb, charoseth (a paste of nuts and fruits) with vegetables, and two of the unleavened bread wafers.

Step 7. Motzi: The blessing for bread holding the remaining matzah bread.

Step 8. Matzah (Unleavened Bread): Everyone eats a part of the top and the middle matzah. They lean to the left when they eat.

Step 9. Maror (Bitter Herbs): The participants eat bitter vegetable-like raw horseradish or romaine lettuce after reciting a blessing over it. Bitter Herbs remind the bitterness of slavery. They dip the bitter herb in charoset, a sweet dark-colored paste made from mixing apples, nuts, cinnamon, and wine. They signify the mortar Israelites used for the construction work in Egypt during their slavery.

Step 10. Koresh (Matzah Sandwich): The participants fill two pieces of Matzah with Maror and Romaine lettuce. They recite a special prayer and eat the Koresh while leaning to the left.

Step 11. Shulchan Orech (Dinner): The head of the family cuts the Pascal lamb into pieces and gives a part to each family member with unleavened bread and bitter herbs dipped in sauce.

Step 12. Tzafun / Afikoman (Half-piece Matzo bread): The head of the family asks children to find the piece of matzah bread that he hid earlier. Its finding represents Jesus’ resurrection according to the Christian view. Once recovered, they break that into pieces and eat, saying, “This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in Egypt” (Ex 13:3). At this point, Jesus established the Holy Eucharist using the Afikoman bread. “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing and broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body’” (Mt 26:26).

Step 13. Barech (The Cup of Redemption): The head of the family then serves the third cup of wine, saying a blessing over the cup. All the participants share it. Jesus instituted the second part of the Holy Eucharist at this part of the Passover observance. “Then he took a cup and gave thanks, and passed it to them saying, ‘Drink from this, all of you, for this is my blood, the blood of the Covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’” (Mt 26:27-28). Jesus and his apostles left the room to the Garden of Gethsemane at this moment. The rest of the Passover continued through his sacrifice as the Lamb of God on the Cross. Then the participants pour wine in the fourth cup. They set aside an additional cup for the prophet Elijah, who would announce Messiah on a Pesach day. Then one of them opens a door to invite the prophet into the house.

Step 14. Hallel (Praises): The participants recite the rest of the Psalms (Hallel) (Ps 115-118) followed by a blessing over the fourth cup of wine and drink it. Jesus considered the fourth cup as his suffering, and prayed at the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if it is your will, remove this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42). However, Jesus accepted and tasted this fourth cup when he was on the cross.

Step 15. Nirtzah (Closing): The Passover concludes saying “It is finished” and with the prayer, “Next Year in Jerusalem” hoping that they might celebrate Pesach the following year in Jerusalem with the Messiah. Jesus also said, “It is finished” after tasting the fourth cup on the cross just before his death.

(Lk 22:15) And he said to them, “How much I have longed to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; …”

Though the enemies made several attempts to kill Jesus, he did not let them do it before he could accomplish all he had planned to do prior to that. He longed to eat his last Passover meal with the apostles before his crucifixion because he had to:

1. Give them his last discourse so they would not get scandalized and depressed at his arrest, sentencing, painful passion, and humiliating death.

2. Jesus wanted to teach the disciples the lesson of servant leadership by washing their feet.

3. He had to establish the Holy Eucharist that they needed to continue in remembrance of his deliverance of humanity from the original sin. He was the new Pascal lamb slain for all humanity instead of the lambs sacrificed for the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt.

(16) “… for, I tell you, I shall not eat it again until it finds its completion in the kingdom of God.”

The Passover Jesus observed with his apostles was the commemoration of Israelites’ liberation from Egyptian bondage for their later entry into the promised land. During the Last Supper, Jesus replaced that Passover with a new one, which is the Holy Eucharist, where he is the Lamb. Along with it, he instituted a new priesthood for a reconstituted Israel, the church. That new kingdom of God would be inaugurated on the day of Pentecost by the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles. So, after the Last Supper, his next Passover with the apostles would be after the completion of his mission on the cross and the establishment of the new kingdom where the renewed Passover he would share with them would be the Holy Eucharist.

Jesus compared the joy of the Kingdom of heaven to a banquet that is enjoyable, relaxed, and involves wonderful friendship. He used this metaphorical usage of a wedding banquet to the kingdom of God that would happen in its fullness at his second coming. John documents his vision in the Island of Patmos: “Then the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb.’ And he said to me, ‘These words are true; they come from God’” (Rev 19:9). While teaching on the servant leadership to the apostles, Jesus said, “It is you who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer a kingdom on you, just as my Father has conferred one on me, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom; and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Lk 22:28-30). Until Jesus’ second coming, the disciples must diligently work for the church with their entrusted responsibilities. “Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them” (Lk 12:35-37).  

(17) Then he took a cup and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this and share it among yourselves: …”

In this Passover meal, Jesus acted as the head of the family. Out of the four cups of wine drank during the Passover, this could be the first cup of Sanctification in which case, the head of the family would fill the cup with wine mixed with water and pronounce a thanksgiving over it, taste it first and then pass it to all present. So, this was not the establishment of the sacramental cup. That came later after the supper (Lk 22:20) using the third cup.

(18) “… for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

Wine and banquet are representations of spiritual joy in heaven. Jesus promised he will share the spiritual wine in the kingdom of God with his faithful disciples. Then, “many will come from east and west and sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob at the feast in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 8:11).

(19) Then Jesus took the bread, and after giving thanks, he broke it and gave it to them saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

Melchizedek offered bread and wine to God. He was the priest of Salem, which is Jerusalem (Gen 14:18). Jesus became the High Priest after the order of Melchizedek (Ps 110:4). He revived Melchizedek’s offering and replaced the animal sacrifice in the Temple with the Holy Eucharist.

Jesus took the bread

While Jesus and his apostles were eating the Paschal meal, and before drinking the third cup of wine, Jesus took the bread. This specially cooked unleavened bread symbolized sinlessness.

After giving thanks, he broke it

According to Matthew 26:26 and Mark 14:22, Jesus said a blessing over the bread before he broke it. He did that over the unleavened bread to transubstantiate it to his body. Breaking the bread was symbolic of the sufferings the Israelites underwent in the past. When Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist, it became representative of his passion and death. Jesus broke the bread and passed the pieces to his apostles.

Gave it to them saying, “This is my body, which is given for you.”

Jesus calls the bread his body and not a symbol of his body. Jesus fulfilled his promise: “I am the bread of life. Though your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, they died. But here you have the bread which comes down from heaven so that you may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which has come down from heaven; whoever eats of this bread will live forever. The bread I shall give is my own flesh and I will give it for the life of the world” (Jn 6:48-51).

Do this in remembrance of me.

By these words, Jesus gave the authority to his apostles to continue his Eucharistic meal in the church until his second coming. Thus, he established priesthood and assured the spiritual nourishment of his followers with his body and blood. That will also become a memorial of his sacrifice with his spiritual presence among the faithful. So, the Christian Passover is no longer a remembrance of deliverance from Egypt but the liberation of us from the bondage of Satan by Jesus. Just celebrating the Holy Eucharist is not enough. Like Jesus, who continued his sacrifice and shedding of blood on the cross, we should continue the sacrifice in the daily lives as our humble service for the family and others entrusted to our care.

(20) And he did the same with the cup after the meal, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood which is poured out for you.”

He did the same with the cup after the meal

The blood of the sacrificial animal was separated from the body to prepare for the sacrifice. No human was supposed to drink the blood that represented life. The priests poured the blood of the sacrificial animal at the altar in the Temple as an offering to God. At the institution of the Holy Eucharist, Jesus also considered his body and blood separate. He blessed the bread representing his body and blood representing his life and gave both to his disciples to consume.

Jesus used the third cup known as “The cup of Redemption” to institute the Holy Eucharist. This cup had wine mixed with a little water called “the cup of blessing” (1 Cor 10:16) because of a special blessing said over it thanking God for the wine and food the Israelites could produce by God’s grace. It was the principal cup, which they did after the Pascal meal. The red represented the Passover lamb’s blood marked on the doorposts of the Israelites in Egypt when the angel of death passed over their houses. Similarly, Christ’s blood marked on the cross saved the people.

This cup is the new covenant in my blood

Shedding of blood was part of making a covenant like animal sacrifices or the Abrahamic covenant of circumcision (Gen 17:8-14). Jesus here applied the same phrase used for the Old Covenant that God made with Israelites through Moses at Mount Sinai as given in Exodus 24:3-8. People agreed to all the ordinances of the Lord when Moses came down from the mountain and reported to them. Moses then built an altar at the foot of the mountain. The Israelites offered burned offerings of young bulls. Moses took half of the blood in large bowls and splashed on the altar. He read aloud from the book of the covenant to the people who responded, “All that the LORD has said we shall do and obey.” Moses splashed the other half of blood on the people, saying, “Here is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

Just as Moses was the mediator of the old covenant, Jesus became the mediator of the New Covenant established at the Last Supper and fulfilled on Calvary. After using wine for his blood, Jesus shed his blood for humanity through the torture and crucifixion he underwent. This was the fulfillment of the new covenant Jeremiah prophesied (31:31-33).

Jesus asked his apostles to drink his “blood” of the new covenant. The Jews could not drink any blood because it represented the life of the person or animal. Unlike Moses sprinkling the people with the animal blood (Ex 24:6), Jesus was giving his own sacramental blood for his believers to drink because his covenant was not external, but internal. When a believer drinks the sacramental blood of Jesus, he receives the life of Jesus and unites with his life.

Which is poured out for you.

After Jesus blessed the cup, he shed his blood within hours, on the same date according to the Hebrew Calendar. Instead of the animal blood poured on the altar of the Temple, Jesus shed his blood, replacing all the past animal sacrifices that could take away only the personal sins. Jesus poured out his blood not for him, but for humanity to take away our original sin forever. That shedding of blood was completed at the cross when Longinus pierced the heart of Jesus with a lance after his death on the cross (Jn 19:34).

(21) But the hand of the traitor is with me on the table.

The betrayal of Judas troubled Jesus deeply and testified, “Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me” (Jn 13:21). In John 13:18, Jesus said it is the fulfillment of Psalm 41:10: “Even my trusted friend, who ate my bread, has raised his heel against me.” The disciples were perplexed by this (Jn 13:22). Jesus was aware of who was the traitor and indirectly identified him.

The revelation of the betrayal of Judas after the institution of the Holy Eucharist is a proof that Judas received the Holy Eucharist and received the ordination to priesthood after he agreed to the Jewish leaders to betray Jesus.

The End of the Passover Meal on the Cross

Jesus skipped the fourth cup of the Passover so he could complete it at the crucifixion. After the second part of the songs of praise called “Hallel,” he left to offer his life as the sacrificial lamb. When Jesus was near death on the cross, “Jesus knew that all was now finished and he said, ‘I am thirsty,’ in fulfillment of Scripture. A jar full of bitter wine stood there; so, putting a sponge soaked in the wine on a hyssop stalk, they raised it to his lips. Jesus took the wine and said, ‘It is now fulfilled.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up the spirit” (Jn 19:28-30). When Jesus spoke “It is finished,” he was not referring to his life’s end but the 15th step of the Passover celebration. Thus, on the cross, Jesus finished his Passover meal by drinking the fourth cup and declaring the end of his Passover observance.

MESSAGE

1. Unlike the Jewish leaders of the time, Jesus practiced what he taught. He even washed the feet of his disciples to teach the importance of servant leadership in the church. We become loyal disciples of Jesus only if we humble ourselves in our dealings with others and take up our responsibilities as service.

2. Jesus washed even Judas’ feet, though he knew Judas would betray him that night. Jesus, who taught us to love our enemies and bless them, gave a concrete example by washing Judas’ feet and kissing them. Let us follow Jesus’ model of being tolerant of those who plot against us.

3. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples just before establishing and sharing the Holy Eucharist. This reminds us of the relationship between the sacraments of confession and Holy Communion. Before participating and receiving the Holy Eucharist (Qurbana), we need to cleanse our souls by confession or by an act of contrition. We should do with more attention, the penitential service during the Holy Mass (Qurbana) before we receive the Holy Communion.

4. The Holy Eucharist that Jesus established and commanded us to continue in the church is his greatest gift for us to keep up our covenantal relationship with him. Let us make use of every opportunity to take part in the Holy Mass in the church.

5. As we remember the establishment of priesthood in the church, let us pray for all the priests and pledge our cooperation with them in building up of the church.

6. Judas, along with the other apostles, had received the baptism, washing of feet, the Holy Eucharist, and even ordination from Jesus. Still, he failed, not because of any deficiency on Jesus’ part, but because he was gripped by the love of money that Jesus had warned against. Judas even ignored the warnings Jesus gave at the Last Supper. Satan is after the holy people with offers of wealth and temporal glory. They will resist the Word of God if worldly desires become their priority.

7. Passover was a feast of the unleavened bread. Leaven was symbolic of sin, and the family removed it thoroughly before the Passover. Our mothers use new utensils and vessels to prepare the Passover food remembering this. This also reminds us of our need for spiritual cleanliness, especially during the Holy Week.

8. During the Passover in Egypt, the angel of death spared the first-born sons of only those who obeyed the commandment of God through Moses to sacrifice the lamb and mark the doorposts of their houses with its blood. The Israelites had to continue keeping the ordinances of the Lord to occupy the promised land. Though Jesus washed away our original sin through baptism, we need to practice the teachings of Jesus to inherit the Kingdom of God.