Luke 22: 14- 30
When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”
After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!” They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.
A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
One of the childhood games that Sunday school competitions introduced me to is the ‘Breaking of balloons’. What does one need to do? The elders used to fill air in the balloon, tie it with strings and then the extended part of the string used to be tied to the ankle of the child. The rule of the game is very simple. Save your balloon and break the balloon of your fellow competitor. Whoever is good at breaking other balloons and saving your own balloon is the winner. “Break other and save yourself and you will be the winner.”
Now while you ponder over that tiny trivia let us look at the passage set before us. The context of this passage is Jesus and disciples celebrating the Passover. Please read Exodus 12 to know the detailed version of how and why a Passover was being celebrated. Passover was celebrating the liberative act of God, where the Israelites were rescued with an out stretched arm of God from the clutches of Pharaoh. So in the background of this celebration which is about liberation, Jesus takes the bread and breaks it. My friend Rev Eapen Mathew points out that in normal practice, it was just to dip the bread. But breaking shows a new act. It foreshadows the crucifixion of Jesus. Eucharist emphasizes two aspects, one of Christ being broken and Christ shedding his blood for us on the cross. This great love of being broken and shedding is the key part of the remembrance of Christ. Christ’s love compelled him to be broken.
But if you read verse 24 the disciples seem to be playing the game of “Breaking the balloons”. They had a dispute of who is greatest among them. To prove that they had to break others balloons and save theirs. We too are like the disciples. Getting ahead of others is very important. What I did during the game, may be, defines who I really am. I did not go to break the balloons. I am a nice guy. All I tried was to save my balloon. I kept running away. Protecting my balloon was important. So taking no risks, playing safe defines me. But some want to get ahead and the only option is to break others balloon. Only then will you be great and safe. Jesus said to them, there is a change in rule, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22: 25- 27)
Jesus demonstrates the idea of not caring for your balloon. He says “Like me be ready to be broken.” It is here we should understand his act of washing the disciples’ feet. After this act he said “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (John 13: 34). It is from this verse that we get the word Maundy Thursday. Maundy is derived from the Latin word ‘Mandatum’ which means a command. The command is to love one another. Eucharist is the time where we remember the costly love of our Lord who was ready to be broken for us. How did this change history? Sociologist Rodney Stark says that the reason for Jesus Movement was the response of Jesus’ disciples to the sick and the downtrodden. In the Roman Empire, the normal response to any epidemic or plague was to leave the one with the disease out in the open to die. This way they could assure that they would live. Greek Historian Thucydides wrote “At the first onset of the disease, they pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treated unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease.” But what did the disciples of Jesus do. Dionysius a third century Bishop of Alexandria writes “In the wake of plague, heedless of the danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need, and ministering to them in Christ. And they embraced all those who were thrown away as their own. There was a heavy loss of life as these followers were infected by the disease. In a way they voluntarily embraced the disease of their neighbours and lost their lives serving others.” It is noteworthy to read the comments of Emperor Julian the Apostate who was an opponent of Christians. He scolded his priests of the Roman cult saying “When the people who are poor where neglected by you priests, the impious Galileans (That is how he called Christians) devoted their lives to them. The impious Galileans not only serve their own poor but ours too. They are ready to die for all those ruffians that we don’t care for.” The followers of Christ did not break any balloons, but were ready to be broken and shed.
The ‘Mandatum’ is to love. Eucharist reminds us to be broken. It reminds us of the great love that did so for us. I remember the movie ‘Untouchables’ with Kevin Cosner in the lead. It is about the mafia gangs in the US that ran bootlegging after US put a ban on Alcohol. The brilliant Robert De Niro plays the role of the Mafia king Al Capone. There is one scene where Al Capone is watching an Opera of some tragedy. He is moved by the tragedy and the music. He is shown as crying bucket full. In midst of this comes an aide informing him about his adversary. And in midst of the tears he instructs his aide to kill the adversary. The paradox or the irony cannot be missed in this scene. During the Eucharist we too try to observe the rituals with tears and reverence. We may not be as pronounced as Al Capone in this scene, but Eucharist asks us to be broken, to love for the other, but ain’t we busy saving our own balloons? Eucharist does not touch us beyond the boundaries of the church. When we come to the Lord’s Table may we be touched beyond the mere emotions. May our love be manifested with actions of compassion and solidarity.
Let us sing one verse of the Song below
We will work with each other, we will work side by side,
We will work with each other, we will work side by side,
And we’ll guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride.
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love. (2)
Thought to Ponder:
Do people know we are Christians by our Love? Are we are not more defined by what we hate?
Rev Merin Mathew
Mar Thoma Syrain Church