Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Beginning of the End

Like this post? Check out the full work, Simon, Who Is Called Peter! It's been extensively edited and updated, and combines the readability of First-Person narration with biblical and scholarly accountability in the form of copious footnotes, allowing you to see the world of the New Testament through the eyes of Jesus' most notorious disciple.

We're jumping a bit ahead here, simply because there is far too much about the day itself for it to all be in one entry. We find Peter and the rest of the disciples waking up on Passover. For a year, and for the last several weeks in particular, Jesus has been telling them, over and over again, that he will die here. Only a few days ago, he told them that on this very day, he would be delivered up to be crucified. It reminds me (as it must have reminded Peter and the rest) of John 6, when many disciples desert Jesus. Jesus turns to the 12 and asks if they too will leave: Peter's response evidences not just devotion, but is also tinged with resignation: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." Now, it is not the disciples who might leave, but Jesus himself who is telling them that he is going to die. 

Jesus was already outside when we woke up, walking around and praying as he did every morning. We got ready and went out to speak to him, shivering a little in the cool morning air. He was standing there, some distance from the house, head tilted back and arms above his head. We walked quietly to where he stood and waited, until he lowered his arms and brought his head back down to look at us. I stepped forward.[1]
            “Teacher,” I said, “today is the Passover. Where do you want us to go to prepare the meal?” He sighed and nodded, as if he had been already thinking about it. Then he gestured to two of us and said, “Peter, John, go into the city. There you will find a man carrying a jar of water. Follow him, and wherever he enters, tell the master of the house, “The Teacher says, ‘My time is at hand. Where is my guest room, where I may eat Passover with my disciples?’” I repeated the words in my mind as he said them. “He will show you a large upper room furnished and ready: there you will prepare the meal.” We nodded. “And the rest of you,” he added, “rest and pray. This will be a long day.” And with that he walked a little ways off and knelt down on the ground. I frowned. Jesus normally stood when he prayed. He must be very tired. I caught John’s eye and, once he had joined me, we began walking to Jerusalem.[2]
            The time passed slowly as we walked. I could not stop thinking about all the things Jesus had said about his death. For a year now he had been telling us that he would die here, in Jerusalem—several times in the past week alone. Why? How? It just did not make sense. He was more than a man. He was God’s Son, over even Moses and Elijah, and he said and did things that had never been done before. What would happen today?
            We walked in silence, and as we walked I thought about how different this was than our arrival last week. There were no crowds, no palm branches, no chanting. Just the dry dust, stirred by our feet and the light breeze, coating our feet and legs. There was the withered fig tree—it made me think of what we had thought this Passover was going to be like. There was where the Pharisees had stood, glaring at Jesus. They were not there now, but they were surely somewhere, thinking of how to kill Jesus—that had to be what Jesus was worried about.
            After what seemed like a very long time, we reached the city gates. No sooner had we passed through than we saw a man carrying a jar of water, just as Jesus said. I smiled a little to see him walking in the midst of all the women coming from the well.[3] We followed him for a little while until he reached a house. Everything happened exactly as Jesus had said. We found the master of the house, and no sooner were the words out of our mouths than he smiled, nodded, and showed us up to a room.[4] John and I exchanged stunned glances when we saw the room—how was it that such a room was still available?[5]  It was completely furnished with tables and couches,[6] and it even had decorations. There were even—I chuckled to myself—two swords hung up on the wall.
We prepared mostly in silence—I do not think either of us could forget what Jesus had told us over the last few days. However, despite the uncertainty, the preparation was soothing, in a way. We did what we had done every year at Passover since we had been born. The master of the house gave us a lamb, and we took it to the temple and sacrificed it, as we had always done. We prepared it, just as we had always done, just all Jews had done for hundreds of years. Jesus arrived with the rest of the disciples shortly after sundown, just as the lamb was finishing roasting.[7]

[2]The Gospels do not give us the location of the Last Supper. “The city” may refer to either Jerusalem or one of the small suburbs surrounding it, such as Bethany. However, the most logical place, and the most logical “city”, seems to be Jerusalem. Lenski also places the Last Supper in Jerusalem (Matthew 1015).
[3] Lenski (Luke 1037): “This was a woman’s task and was exceptional in the case of a man.” Hendrikson (Matthew 904): “Ordinarily not a man but a woman or a girl would be doing this; hence, this man with a jar of water… will be rather conspicuous.”
[4] Lenski says that “the message… indicates not only that this unnamed man is a disciple of Jesus but also that he one who has advanced in his faith. He will at once know who [the Teacher] is when Peter and John speak to him. And the mysterious expression , ‘My special time is near,’ will be intelligible to him and will at once move him to action.” I agree with Lenski that the man is a disciple of Jesus, but not necessarily that he is further advanced in the faith than the disciples themselves (who do not entirely understand what Jesus means by “his time.”) Jesus tells the disciples to find a particular, unnamed man and say to him that the Teacher is looking for a guest room to celebrate Passover, and then Jesus predicts that the man would show them the furnished, ready room which is then put at their disposal. This does not seem to allow for any puzzlement or unwillingness to lend the room on the part of the house owner. The disciples ask, and immediately the man shows them the room. This implies not only a prior knowledge of Christ but a friendly, subservient disposition to him—that of a disciple. However, full knowledge of exactly what Christ means by “his time” is not necessary—it is entirely possible he merely takes it to mean the time of Passover (as the disciples seem to do). Therefore, the evidence suggests a disciple, but not necessarily one far advanced in the faith.
[5] Lenski (Luke 1038) states that the “furnished and ready” refers to the couches and tables necessary to have a meal in a room, and stresses that the most amazing fact is that the room was still available, given the large number of pilgrims, all of whom would have needed a place to eat Passover.
[7] “While the temple was in being, the Jews sacrificed a lamb in the temple; private persons brought them to the temple, and there slew them… they were to eat the lamb, the same night, roasted, with unleavened bread.” Robinson, Comprehensive Critical and Explanatory Bible Encyclopedia, 725.

Their hope, their rock, their very reason for being, has told them in no uncertain terms that he will be taken and killed as a criminal. They may still hold out for yet another misunderstanding, yet another hope- and grace-filled, "But I say unto you...", but as the night goes on, that hope becomes smaller and smaller as Jesus puts his affairs in order, as one does who is not long for the world.

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