Jesus, on the evening before his crucifixion, gave His disciples one last lesson to help explain His upcoming death. There is no more time left. He better make this a good one. The next few days would contain confusion, chaos, and doubt.
You might think that Jesus would teach another parable. And that would be a good option. They are powerful messages. But He didn’t. Or Jesus might give His disciples a set of new laws, a list of dos and don’ts. But what comfort would that be? He could have given them some new doctrine, but how would this explain the love poured out the next morning?
Instead of giving His disciples a typical lesson He gave them, and us, a meal. In the ancient world of Jesus’ day, sharing a meal with someone implied a bond, like a family bond, a pledge of mutual aid and mutual protection. Jesus was giving the twelve His shalom. This is difficult for someone from the west to understand where we typically go to a restaurant and eat a meal with scores of strangers around us. In Jesus’ part of the word providing a meal to guests has deep meaning. So in this culture the meal is more than just refreshment for guests, it symbolized the host giving out acceptance, peace, protection, and enough sustenance for their next stop on their journey.
Amazingly, around this same table was someone from the far left and someone from the far right. One of the disciples was a Zealot and one was a tax collector for the conquering Roman Empire. That is, one was willing to go to battle against any and all Romans while the other was helping the Romans by collecting money to support their Roman legions. You can’t get further apart politically. And Jesus brought both together to the one table sitting under the umbrella of His shalom. They were all a part of this new family.
The unity of these men eating this last meal with Jesus was obviously of concern to Him. In John 17:9 and following, Jesus prays this prayer of unity: “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” This entire prayer is captured in John 17:1 – 26 and was spoken right before going to the garden where He was betrayed and given up to be crucified.
Also, just a few hours before His crucifixion, Jesus had these words for his disciples record in John 13:34: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” So, left or right, black or white, love one another. All of us who are in Christ can sit at the same King’s table, glorifying Jesus and our Holy Father. What better shalom can you get than from the King and Creator of the universe. For our peace is not in this world, but with the Jesus and the Father.
There is one thing conspicuously missing from this evening meal. In Exodus 12:21 and many other scriptures show a major part of the Passover meal is the lamb. All four gospel writers mention this meal. But neither Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, or John 13 mentions lamb as part of the meal. This was not an oversight by all of the writers. The lamb was missing because Jesus was the Passover Lamb and He is our Passover Lamb. No more animal sacrifices are necessary. He is the perfect sacrifice. So what was missing from the meal is also a powerful lesson in itself.