The Bible and Culture

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The afternoon passed quickly, and the rendezvous at Bethany had happened without incident. The time came when Jesus sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large upper room, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “Amen I say to you, one of you will betray me–one who is eating with me.” They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely not I?”

“It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” When Judas, who was reclining directly to Jesus’ left, had eaten the bread he had in his hand, he looked directly at Jesus and Jesus whispered him, “Hurry and do what you’re determined to do.” Judas looked surprised, but then slipped out quickly into the night. The other disciples were surprised by this behavior but thought that perhaps Jesus had sent him on an errand.

There was a gravity, a heaviness that hung over the celebration of this oddly early Passover meal, as if the death angel was passing by just outside the door, but perhaps there was protective blood on the lintel above the door. Jesus himself seemed burdened with the weight of the world, encumbered with enormous cares. Jesus did not seem much in the mood to celebrate or even to eat and while the rest of the disciples continued to eat, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” This startled the disciples, but they did as Jesus commanded. Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. “Amen I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God.” No one really understood why Jesus had reinterpreted the elements on this occasion, and it was too formal an occasion to allow for questions or dialogue. So it was that when they had sung a solemn hymn above the Passover lamb and the angel, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Jesus sat down on the grass at one of his favorite spots on that mount. Looking at his disciples slowly one by one, he said, “You will all fall away, for it is written:
” ‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

Simon replied boldly, “Even if all fall away, I will not.”

“Amen I say to you,” Jesus answered, “today–yes, tonight–before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.” But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same.

Moving downward towards the bottom of the Mount of Olives they went to a place called Gethsemane or olive press, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Simon, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the cup of G-d’s judgment on sin might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

The full weight of what was about to happen had now become crystal clear to Jesus. Previously, when he told the disciples he was going to be killed, he had not mentioned crucifixion. Crucifixion was the most shameful way possible to die. It was a deliberate public humiliation a public shaming, usually in the nude. No Jew ever saw that as a noble much less redemptive way to die. Indeed, many Jews saw it as just the opposite— they saw it as a sign of God’s final judgment on a life, they saw it as a sign one was cursed. They even read a Scripture from Deuteronomy as speaking about this fate–“cursed be he who hangs upon a tree”. On top of all that, it was also believed that how one died most revealed one’s character.

All of these ideas kept flashing through Jesus’ mind as he went apart to pray to G-d, praying like he had never prayed before. So intensely had he set to the task of praying and so distressed was he that he began sweating even in the cool of a Judean hill country evening, sweating profusely, with the sweat beading up on his brow like great drops of blood. If at all possible, Jesus wanted to avoid dying by crucifixion, not because it meant certain death, as he was prepared to die, not because of the public humiliation and shame though that was on his mind, but because now he fully realized that if his death was to be a ransom for many, if his death was to be an atonement for sins, this meant that the full weight of God’s judgment on sin would fall on him. He would be both scapegoat and Passover lamb, taking away the sins of the world. It meant that he would die utterly alone, forsaken by friends, family– would he be forsaken by Abba as well? To die the death of an infamous sinner was enough shame for one lifetime, but to die abandoned by one and all was too horrific to contemplate. These were the thoughts that began to torment and torture Jesus.

After what seemed like hours, Jesus returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon, are even you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him. Going away once more and then returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

Just as he was speaking, Judas Iscariot appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Master!” and kissed him on the cheek. The men seized Jesus and arrested him. Then Simon, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me? “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.

“Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day this week I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.”

Then everyone deserted him and fled, but two of the disciples, Simon and Eliezer ran only a little distance away, hiding behind one of the ancient olive trees there, and were watching to see what would happen next.

The captors took Jesus to the high priest, and all the chief priests, elders and teachers of the law came together. Simon and the Beloved disciple carefully followed some distance behind, for Eliezer already knew where they would take Jesus. He went into the high priest’s courtyard, right behind the captors but Simon had to wait outside at the door. Eliezer, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the girl on duty there and brought Simon in. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire.

The chief priests and members of the Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree. Then some stood up, those who had been part of the crowd listening to Jesus earlier in the week, and gave this false testimony against him: “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.’ “Yet even then their testimony did not agree.

Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer.
So it was that finally the high priest, to force the issue, asked him, “Are you the messiah the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” It was not the claim to be messiah, many had made such a claim, but rather the claim to be the coming Son of Man who would take G-d’s role judging the earth and ruling forever on it that had been the straw that broke the camel’s back, and had led to the high priest tearing his robe while crying out blasphemy.

So those assembled condemned Jesus as worthy of death. Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, “Prophesy!” And the guards took him and beat him.

While Simon was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him.
“You also were with that Netzerene, Jesus,” she said.

But he denied it. “I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about,” he said, and went out into the entry way.

When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, “This fellow is one of them.” Again he denied it.
After a little while, those standing near said to Simon, “Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” They recognized he was not a Judean by his accent. He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.” Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Simon remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

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