Sunday, November 14
Luke 22:14-23: The extant manuscripts of Luke’s Gospel differ greatly among themselves with respect to these verses. The present comments are based on the longer Received Text represented in the Eastern manuscripts, special attention being given to the earliest extant manuscript of Luke, the Papyrus Bodmer XIV.
Luke refers explicitly to the Kingdom of God in regard to both the Eucharist (verses 14-15,29-30) and the Lord’s Passion (22:69; 23:37-38,42). In the Church’s celebration of the Holy Eucharist the Kingdom itself becomes present in the presence of Christ.
It is a feature of the longer text of the Gospel of Luke that there are two references to the cup (verses 17,20). In both cases Luke uses the standard Eucharistic verbs: took, gave thanks, said, take, share (cf. also the multiplication of the loaves in 9:12-17).
In fact there were three cups consumed in the traditional Seder, and Luke’s two cups seem to be identified with the second and third cups of that ritual meal. That is, the cup following the Passover narrative (the haggadah) and the “cup of blessing” (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:16) that came after the consumption of the paschal lamb. The distribution of unleavened bread came between these two cups, exactly where we find it in Luke. Thus, the Seder itself was transformed into the Christian Eucharist through the symbolic attention given to the bread and the third cup.
The drinking of this third cup was placed between the first and second parts of the Hallel Psalms (113-118 [112-117 in Greek and Latin]). It was associated with the words of Psalm 116:12-13 (115:4), “What shall I render to the Lord, for all His benefits toward me? I will take up the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord.” This is one of the psalms, then, that Jesus prayed immediately before going out to the Garden of Gethsemani and accepting, from the Father’s hand, the cup of His sufferings (verse 42).
Luke is careful to say that only the Apostles were present with Jesus for the institution of the Lord’s Supper and only they received the dominical mandate to “do this.” From the very beginning of Christian history the presidency of the Eucharist has been reserved to those men who received from the Apostles this particular mandate through the direct succession of ordination.
The “remembrance” of verse 19 refers to God’s remembrance. That is to say, in the Eucharistic rite God remembers His covenant with the Church in Christ (cf. Genesis 9:9-17).
Monday, November 15
Luke 22:24-30: The shameless dispute over rank among the Apostles, which Matthew (19:28; 20:25-28) and Mark (9:33-34; 10:41-45) place much earlier in the narrative sequence, is found during the Last Supper in Luke’s account. In this respect, Luke description of the disciples’ attutde during this meal resembles the account of it in John (13:1-20).
The proper answer to the question of apostolic rank is that it should never arise. This being the wrong question, any answer to it is necessarily the wrong answer. The ministry of the Christian Church is modeled, rather, on the example of Christ our Lord, who became the Servant of His people. In John’s account this servant quality is illustrated by the Lord’s washing of the disciples’ feet.
By placing this discussion during the Last Supper, Luke brings it into greater proximity to the Lord’s Passion, in which He does show Himself to be God’s Suffering Servant foretold in the Book of Isaiah.
In verses 28-30 the Eucharistic table becomes the effective symbol of God’s table in the Kingdom, where these same Apostles, scandalously squabbling among themselves for rank, will be afforded places of prominence. They will receive such prominence because they have persevered with Jesus in His trials.
Tuesday, November 16
Luke 22:31-34: The dispute over rank among the Apostles shows how spiritually vulnerable they really are, and these next verses address that spiritual vulnerability.
The scene described here is found at the table of the Last Supper in Luke and John, whereas in Matthew and Mark it is narrated as taking place while Jesus walked with His disciples on the way to the Agony in the Garden. It is not unreasonable to suppose that the conversation was somewhat longer than is recorded in the Gospels and that it extended for some time, both in the upper room and after they left it.
In either setting the prediction of Peter’s denials is placed in the context of the Lord’s Supper and is included in all four Gospels as an exhortation to Christians with respect to the temptations that may befall them even while partaking of the Lord’s body and blood. Satan does not boycott the Eucharist.
In contemporary English (which makes no distinction between “thou” and “ye”), it is difficult to discern all the subtlety in these verses. The “you” in verse 31 is plural. That is to say, it is not only Peter that Satan desires to sift as wheat; it is all of the Apostles. Indeed, it is all Christians. Satan has “asked,” he has sought permission, to try them, just as he had formerly asked such permission with respect to Job (Job 1:12; 2:6). In the Lord’s Passion the disciples will be tried as Job was tried, and the Lord warns them of this in His words to Peter.
The “you” in verse 32, however, is singular, not plural. That is to say, it is Peter himself for whom the Lord prays. In fact, as the story goes on to show, Peter is the one most in danger, and Jesus foresees this. He also foresees Peter’s repentance, for which He prayed. In connection with this repentance, the Lord commands him to strengthen his brethren. Indeed, the story of Peter’s fall and repentance has been strengthening his brethren down to the present day.
Wednesday, November 17
Luke 22:35-38: These verses are found only in Luke, who is also the only one of the Evangelists to treat of Christian evangelism in the context of the Lord’s Supper. This fact is significant, suggesting the outward thrust of the Eucharist into the Church’s mission to the world.
Comparing these verses to 10:4, we see that the terms of the Church’s engagement with the world are now changed. Those earlier restrictions, though they did not impede the ministry at the time, are now lifted, and the Church is instructed to take such measures as will prove necessary for the greater and lengthier mission. (To borrow a metaphor from Matthew 24, the Church will need to provide oil for the lamps, because time will be the trial of her success, as the return of the Bridegroom is delayed.)
According to nearly all commentators (and certainly to all those commentators that the present writer disposed to trust), the purse, the wallet, and the sword are to be understood figuratively. They imply that the Christian mission will be costly, strenuous, and fraught with peril. The Church must be ready for anything (verse 36).
A crisis is now about to fall. With the betrayal of Christ begins the last age of world history. What has been written “must” be fulfilled (to gegrammenon dei telesthenai —verse 37). The Lord refers here to His own fulfillment of the Suffering Servant prophecies from the Book of Isaiah, specifically Isaiah 53:12. This is the proper context for considering the Church’s mission in the world.
Alas, the Apostles, misunderstanding the Lord’s reference to the sword, announce that they have two swords (at least one of which will be used in the Garden that night!). To this announcement our Lord expresses a definite despondency. “Enough of that,” He sighs.
Thursday, November 18
Luke 22:39-46: We now come to the Agony in the Garden, our (apparently) earliest description of which is found in Hebrews 5:7. This brief description is important, because it indicates that the prayer of Jesus, made “with vehement cries,” was loud enough to be heard by at least some of the Apostles. It is their immediate testimony to the event that lies behind the descriptions in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
Luke is the only Evangelist to observe that Jesus was accustomed to spend the night in that place (cf. also 21:37), a custom that explains how Judas knew where to find Him that night.
Luke’s version of the Agony is simplified. He does not, like Matthew and Mark, indicate that the agony lasted a long time. He includes no threefold reprimand to the Apostles, nor does he describe them as fleeing at the time of the Lord’s arrest, nor does he single out three of them as special witnesses to the event.
Indeed, Luke does not even say it happened in a garden. He describes Jesus’ prayer as being made, rather, on a hill, “the Mount of Olives.” In fact, the Garden of Gethsemani is found on the west side of the Mount of Olives, but it is significant that Luke mentions the hill, not the garden. In fact, Luke normally pictures Jesus as praying on hills (cf. 6:12; 9:28).
Even though verses 43-44 are missing from some of our oldest and best manuscripts of Luke (including Papyrus Bodmer XIV), they were certainly found in the original text and should be preserved. It is fairly easy to explain how they might have been left out of copies of the original text, whereas it is virtually impossible to explain how they might later have been added to the original text.
Friday, November 19
Luke 22:47-53: It is unlikely that Simon Peter and Malchus knew each other, the one being a Galilean fisherman and the other a servant of Caiaphas the high priest, living in Jerusalem. Nor is it probable, in the normal course of affairs, that the paths of these two men would ever have crossed.
Affairs were not following a normal course, however, on that fateful night just prior to Passover, when the destinies of Malchus and Simon came to an abrupt and dramatic confrontation in an olive orchard on the side of a hill just east of the Kidron Valley.
Malchus was part of an armed band sent by the high priest to arrest Jesus of Nazareth secretly, away from the eyes and impulses of the Passover crowds. This band was guided by Judas Iscariot, a defector from the small group of Jesus’ close companions, for he was the one who could identify Jesus from within their number. The giveaway sign was an easy one; Judas would simply walk up to Jesus and kiss His hand, the customary greeting that a disciple gave to his rabbi.
Moreover, there is no reason to believe that Malchus himself regarded the coming event as especially significant. It had nothing to do with him, after all; he was simply the faithful servant of the high priest, expected to perform this task loyally, leaving to his betters the determination of such matters.
It was somewhat after midnight when that armed band left the house of Caiaphas, well to the south of the Temple, proceeded northward along the Kidron Creek, and approached the little bridge by which they could cross over to the Mount of Olives on the opposite side. Those in the front carried lanterns and flambeaus to light the way, for the night was dark, in spite of the full moon of Passover. Some of the band were armed with swords, while others carried only clubs (Matthew 26:47). We are not sure just what Malchus had in hand.
Meanwhile, Simon Peter was once again awakened by the voice of Jesus, having fallen asleep three times in as many hours, even as he listened to the prayer of Jesus. Weak in flesh, Simon had utterly failed in the Master’s command to watch and pray with Him (Matthew 26:41).
What a night. At the Passover Seder, just a few hours ago, Jesus had disclosed the presence of a traitor among them and foretold that the rest of the little group would fail Him in His coming hour of trial (26:21Ý24, 31). Simon himself had been singled out for a special warning, as the Lord predicted his triple denial before that very night should run its course (26:33Ý35). It was all entirely too much for a man to bear, so Simon had slept there on the ground, under the olive trees.
But now he was awakened by the Lord’s voice: “Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand” (26:46). And here they were, a band of armed men already on the scene. Simon leapt up, holding a sword that he had brought to make good his promise of loyalty in the face of danger. He recognized Judas Iscariot, who came forward to Jesus and, in the customary fashion, kissed the hand of his rabbi. Just what was this all about?
The response of Jesus explained it all: “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:48). Simon waited no further.
Malchus saw the sword coming from the right, aimed at his throat, and he ducked quickly to his left to avoid decapitation. Even so, his right ear was partly severed by the tip of the blade (Luke 22:50). Then Jesus stepped up, grabbed his dangling ear, and replaced it entirely to his head, as though nothing had ever happened. The rest of that night was a blur, and the whole next day, as he walked around in a daze, going to Pilate’s and elsewhere, but ever reaching up from time to time to feel his ear and trying to make sense of it all.
Some decades later, Malchus, a Christian now for many years and long repentant of his actions on that dreadful night, sat down and described his part in the event to a physician named Luke, who happened to be writing a new account of the life and teaching of Jesus. Malchus told how the Lord reached out His hand through the enveloping darkness and reattached his dangling ear. “He made it as good as new, really. But, please, leave out my name,” Malchus requested of Luke. He was not aware that another writer would put it in anyway (John 18:10). This other writer, John, had been present when it happened, and he may have learned the name of Malchus from a cousin, who encountered Simon in the courtyard of the high priest somewhat later that night (18:26).
Saturday, November 20
Luke 22:54-62: It is most significant, surely, that Peter’s triple denial, so embarrassing to the chief of the Twelve Apostles, is narrated in detail in each of the four canonical Gospels, for it is thus made to stand fixed forever in the memory of Holy Church. From this story, all believers down through the ages are to learn two lessons that they must never forget:
First, anyone may fall, at any time. If Simon Peter could deny Jesus, any one of us could do so. Simon, after all, had not believed himself capable of such a thing. “Even if all are made to stumble,” he boasted, “yet I will not be” (Mark 14:29). He was so utterly resolved on the matter that, when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus in the garden, Simon had attacked them with violence. Alas, he was neither the first man nor the last to confuse human excitement with divine strength, nor to mistake the pumping of adrenaline for the infusion of grace. Within a very short time after he swung his sword at the unsuspecting Malchus, we find Peter backing down embarrassed before the pointing finger of a servant girl. The Holy Spirit took particular care that Christians throughout the ages would never forget that falling away remains a real possibility for any of them. In the words of yet another converted sinner, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
Second, Christians were also to learn from this story that, as long as they are alive, repentance and a return to forgiveness are always live options. In this respect, the repentance of Simon Peter is to be contrasted with the despair of Judas. Thus, the Gospel stories tell us, until our very last breath, it is never too late to return to God in answer to the summons of His grace. It is probably today’s Gospel that gives the most poignant description of this conversion: “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. . . . So Peter went out and wept bitterly” (verses 61-62).