27 June 2012

Luke 21:37 – 22:13

"The festival of unleavened bread, which is called the Passover, was near." (22:1)


The story of Jesus is nearing its climax and Luke's Gospel sets the scene for the dramatic events that are to follow. The Jewish festival of Pesach took place on the 14th day of the month of Nisan, and celebrated Israel's escape from Egyptian slavery. At the time of Jesus (according to the Jewish historian Josephus) up to 2,500,000 people would crowd into Jerusalem, with a predictable pressure on space and resources. Anyone who has been to a rock festival or in London for the diamond jubilee celebrations will have some idea of what that means! The Jerusalem crowds were volatile and rioting was a constant danger, so the caution of those Jewish leaders who were plotting against Jesus is understandable.

The disciple Judas moves over from light to darkness as he agrees to betray Jesus to the authorities (verses 3-6). Jesus is to be handed over for suffering and death, in the same way as the Passover lambs are sacrificed as part of the preparation for the feast: 'Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us' (1 Corinthians 5:7). While Luke's Gospel is picturing a genuine historical event, there is also a deeper symbolism. Ever since, Christians have seen a strong continuity between the liberation celebrated by Jewish people at Passover, and the liberation celebrated at Easter.

The main Passover meal would take place on the first evening of the festival and was usually a household celebration with between 10-20 present. Sometimes a Rabbi and his followers would celebrate Passover together, and this is the scene described, with Jesus sending his most trusted disciples to make sure that everything is ready. Even here, Jesus' prophetic powers and God's providential guidance are prominent. In all this vast crowd, Peter and John somehow find the exact person who will help them prepare for the meal!

Jesus and his followers were Jewish, part of the rich tradition that stretched back through the centuries to the founders of the nation. This is something that Christians have often forgotten, especially when they have thought of Jesus in opposition to the Judaism of his day. Luke is very keen that we remember.

To Ponder

How can we learn more about our Jewish roots?

What parts do meals play in our expression of Christian community?

Try and relive the story, with yourself as one of the characters or as a member of the crowd. What are your thoughts, feelings or reflections?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Richard Clutterbuck

Richard Clutterbuck is a minister of the Methodist Church in Britain but since 2004 has served the Irish Methodist Church as principal of Edgehill Theological College in Belfast. His ministry has been divided between pastoral appointments in North London and theological education in the South Pacific (Tonga), Britain and Ireland.