Edgar Degas The Conversation woman dressed in red talking with man over papers

Reflecting on Matthew 26 17-30

The whole Bible is important to us. But … the story of Jesus’s last supper with his disciples is an especially central one for Christians. That alone may give us a lot to think and talk about this Sunday, April 10, as we are studying Matthew 26:17-30, which is Matthew’s version of that story. Because we have been trying to focus on God’s character as liberator and redeemer this quarter, we may want to think about what this story has to do with freedom. And, as usual, what our answers tell us “freedom” means to us. [Some notes on the text are here.] But here are some other questions we might want to think about or discuss in class:

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One of the many things the text leaves open to our imagination or interpretation is how the two disciples Jesus sends into the city connect with “a certain man” to make arrangements for the Passover meal (vv17-19). What do we ourselves imagine happened? Why do we imagine that? Are there any possible scenarios we reject? Why? What difference does it make what we think happened here?

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Verses 20-25 focus on the disciples’ reaction to Jesus’s announcement of his coming betrayal. (Not for the first time, notice! See Matthew 17:22.) The disciples are “greatly distressed” AND they seem to be anxious about the possibility that they are “the one.” What do we make of this?

[More personal] Do we ourselves ever wonder, or worry, that we have betrayed, or are betraying, or will betray, Jesus? When? Why?

Does it make a difference to us that the disciples – the Twelve – had this concern? What difference? Why?

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Verses 26-29 give us Jesus’s words of institution of the Lord’s Supper. [We use these words, or words from one of the other synoptic gospels (Mark 14:22-25 or Luke 22:14-20) or else from 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, in our communion liturgies.] How do these words relate to our own understanding of communion?

[More theological, maybe] What IS our own understanding of communion? How have we come to that understanding? (For instance, religious instruction? Reading? Talking with others? Some other way?) How do Jesus’s words here support that understanding? Or, deepen it? Or, possibly, challenge it? Why?

Matthew’s text doesn’t explicitly tell us that Judas was present, or absent, at this moment. How do we ourselves picture the scene? Why? What difference does it seem to make whether we picture Judas present, or absent, at this moment? How does it affect our thoughts and feelings about Jesus? Our thoughts and feelings about the meaning of communion? Why?

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What is the significance of that hymn in verse 30, for us? Why?

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Overall, this text gives us a lot of opportunities to go in a lot of different directions!

If we think about the very human event of that last meal, and the meaning of eating a meal together, and reflect on the different things that would have been in the different individuals’ minds at the time, we will be drawn into the drama of the moment. We could reflect on that. And from there, it seems a short step, to me, to reflect on how that drama carries over into the drama of the Eucharist for us … especially considering that we ourselves, in real life, come to that sacrament in many different conditions and moods and degrees of readiness and appreciation. Regardless of what we may have been taught about how we SHOULD approach the sacrament.

But a wide-open avenue for theological reflection is open to us here, too. Not just on the sacramental side, but on the connection between this event and “freedom,” and the Last Supper’s symbolic connections with Passover, and everything we might be able to think it says or implies about atonement. (And atonement may be on our minds anyway, as we are getting ever closer to Good Friday.) In other words, there is a lot going on in this text. And we probably care deeply about all these matters, too. Hopefully, all that makes for fruitful reading and studying together, at the very least.

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Degas painting of woman in red hat and man in conversation over papers on a table

Image: “The Conversation,” Edgar Degas, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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