The Passover with the Disciples

17 On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.

20 When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; 21 and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” 25 Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.” 26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

30 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

a. The structure, literary form (genre) and literary features of this text

This text is a narrative within a much larger passion narrative. The conflict arises around the table with the “Surely not I, Rabbi?” comment of Judas.

The story has two clear sections:

Section 1 begins with Jesus sending the disciples to see a ‘certain man’ to prepare for the Passover.  In this first section, reminiscent of the sending out for the donkey on the Entry to Jerusalem (Palm Sunday), readers are also made aware of the Jesus’ awareness of his own betrayal.

Section 2 is the Passover meal itself. The meal Matthew describes contains a number of features consistent with the historical Passover meal (see comments below).

b. The context of this text within the Gospel

Jesus’ popularity has threatened leaders and the Biblical drama is moving rapidly towards the main conflict of the whole Gospel, the Crucifixion. 

In the preceding 16 verses Matthew writes about betrayal and fidelity: Betrayal in the person of Judas, who agrees to betray for 30 pieces of silver (about 4 months wages for a labourer), and fidelity in the woman who anoints his head silently proclaiming him the Messiah, the anointed one.

c. Words/phrases/figures of speech of note in the text

“This is my body” 
Jesus identifies his own body with the bread. These words had no place in the traditional Passover ritual and so represent a reinterpretation of the meal and its action. Something different is happening. 

“Then he took the cup” 
The third cup in the Seder meal is the ‘cup of redemption’ so the allusion to Passover continues, as does the foreshadowing of resurrection.

“My blood of the covenant”
Jesus identifies his own blood with the cup.  This can seem a little more gruesome than identifying his body with bread. However, readers also need to consider the metaphorical connotations of feeding. In his lifetime Jesus has fed the minds, souls, spirits and hearts of many.

For Jewish people of Jesus’ time ‘blood’ was a synonym for life. This choice of words alludes to Exodus. The phrase ‘blood of the covenant’ is used in Exodus 24:7-9 when Moses sprinkled blood to seal the covenant. Christians interpret this as reference to a new covenant in Christ.

“Poured out for many”
The interesting word here is ’many’ which in Hebrew means an infinitely large number, ie. it cannot be counted. This phrase follows on from “my blood”; Matthew applies it to Jesus in his death. His blood, poured out in death, emphasises the sense of Jesus as servant (Is 53:12).  Further, the word ‘many’ reminds Matthew’s readers that Jesus’ sacrifice is extended beyond his immediate disciples.

 “This fruit of the vine”   
Jesus’ final comment in this text about not drinking again from the “fruit of the vine” makes it clear that this will be the last meal he shares with his disciples before his death and foretells that he will not drink this cup with them again until he drinks it with them in the Kingdom of his Father.

“Forgiveness of sins”  
“The concept of forgiveness of sins, as it is often used in the Hebrew Scriptures, is broader than forgiveness of personal guilt and the re-establishment of a loving covenant relationship with God.” (http://johnmckinnon.org/index.php/matthew26v17-30)

Dipped his hand in the bowl”

The other Disciples would not have noticed who dipped their hand in the bowl with Jesus, but Judas would have.  Again, the element of dipping into the bowl comes from the tradition of Passover.

Questions for the teacher

What is the text saying? What am I wondering about the text?
How can you enable your students to engage with the actual text? What might they wonder about?
What of this information is important to share with the students?