Luke 22:21-38


Supper Discourse - Betrayal

Independently of Mark’s ordering of events, Luke added a series of incidents to the Paschal Meal, before they all sang the Hallel and drank the final cup:

  • Judas’ betrayal
  • Disciples’ dispute
  • Nomination of new patriarchs of Israel
  • Peter’s denial
  • Imminent arrest

These events provided the occasion for further important teaching, his final emphases.


Luke 22:21-23  -  Jesus Reveals his Imminent Betrayal

Luke had mentioned how eagerly Jesus had desired to eat this Passover with the disciples. Yet the inner distance between himself and the others undermined his peace.

21 Look, despite that, the hand of the one who is betraying me
is with mine on the table.
22 Though the Son of Man is going as has been ordained,
yet grief lies in store for that man by whom he is being betrayed.”
23 They began to enquire among themselves
whoever it could be who was going to do this.

Jesus had somehow intuited the betrayal by Judas. Perhaps he had noticed Judas’s absence while he had gone to see the chief priests. Yet Jesus did not explicitly name Judas to the other disciples.

Luke’s comment as it has been determined could be interpreted as though there were some divine plan at work. This interpretation would mean, however, that:

  • God had planned Jesus death - indeed, had explicitly willed it
  • Judas was simply an unfree, predestined pawn in the hand of God.

Both conclusions are unnecessary. 

The fact of Judas’s personal responsibility (grief lies in store for that man) gives lie to the idea that Judas was not a free agent. And Luke’s use of determined simply implied that, given the sin of the world, it was inevitable that Jesus’ choice for love and justice would lead eventually to violent rejection by the powerful, who benefited from people’s oppression.

Jesus’ choice not to explicitly name Judas as his betrayer led the other disciples to look in judgment at each other. They were still far from being the “family” ideally celebrating Passover together. Their tensions and divisions immediately surfaced.

Why did Judas Betray Jesus?

Any answers are pure conjecture. One early answer within the Christian community was his greed. Luke ignored that theory.

Judas may have become disillusioned with Jesus’ non-violence. Another of the twelve had been labelled a Zealot – although Zealots did not really appear in an organised way until twenty or more years after Jesus’ death. Zealots saw the answer to Roman oppression in armed revolt. Nevertheless at the time of Jesus there were sporadic instances of terrorist activity. Jesus himself would be arrested as though he were a terrorist (the translation has “bandit” [22:52]).

Judas may have disagreed in principle with Jesus’ provocative rejection of the temple-centred religious system. Or he may simply have baulked at the increasingly clear – and personally costly - requirements of discipleship.

Yet Judas’ response of betrayal seemed to indicate more than simple disillusionment or disagreement. Otherwise, he could have simply left the group and gone elsewhere. It seems that he wanted to have Jesus’ activity stopped once and for all.  His betrayal of Jesus with a kiss was particularly malicious.


Supper Discourse – Leadership as Service

Luke 22:24-27  -  Disciples Argue about Greatness

24 A dispute arose among them
as to which of them should be counted as the greatest.
25 He said to them, “Gentile rulers exert their power over them,
and people with authority are called benefactors. 
26 You are not to be like that.
Rather let the greatest among you be like a small child
and one with authority like a servant.
27 Who is the greater,
the one reclining at table or the servant?
Is it not the one reclining?
Yet I am among you as the one who serves.”

Mark had placed this incident earlier in his narrative, locating it among other incidents dealing with relationships within the Christian community. Luke deliberately placed it here in his account of the Passover meal so that it might become a point of reference for later celebrations of Eucharist within the Christian community.

Relative honour was a constant concern of all males in the period of Jesus. Rigid patriarchy was ingrained. Indeed, even in the modern world, most relationships are ordered on a mutuality of domination and submission, rarely stated and often unconscious, and not necessarily gender related. The twelve were no exception, despite their closeness to Jesus over the preceding months. Their spiritual journey to Jerusalem had still to commence.

Contemporary kingship, expressed locally in the governorship of Pilate, was firmly based on power. People in authority, and others enjoying positions of relative honour and status within community, often employed managers to handle their business relationships with their clients and to enforce their financial and social oppression. By keeping a discreet distance, and by occasional actions of minor generosity, they sought esteem as benefactors even from their victims.

Jesus’ sense of the Kingdom was a complete reversal. Honour, status and coercive power were to have no place within the Christian community. The radical equality of all before God was precisely the point of Eucharist, clearly exemplified by Jesus who even gave his life precisely as an act of inspiring service of those he loved. This message, above all, was his legacy to his disciples. But it is perhaps always the hardest to learn. Even slaves could prefer slavery to freedom, definite commandment to personal responsibility.


Supper Discourse – Ancient Israel Reconstructed

Luke 22:28-30  -  Jesus Establishes the New Patriarchs

28 “You are the ones who have stayed with me in my trials.
29 And I give you the Kingdom
as the Father gave it to me, 
30 so that you might eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom;
and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

Jesus’ hope in the twelve was irrepressible. Despite their obtuseness, he still trusted them with the future. Perhaps they had stayed with him him in his trials so far. They were soon to betray that trust and abandon him in his deepest trial. Yet Jesus continued to trust and to hope. When he would once more eat and drink the fulfilled Paschal Meal of his Kingdom, they would eat and drink with him, forgiven and reconciled.

Indeed, they would be the new patriarchs of a reconstituted Israel. Around them would grow the new community. Following in the footsteps of Jesus, despite their limitations, they would become the criterion for true leadership – wounded and forgiven healers.


Supper Discourse – Peter a Rock of Strength

Luke 22:31-34  -  Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial and Recovery

Jesus was not living in an unreal world. His trust in the disciples took account of their only too obvious fallibility and weakness. He had chosen them initially, and his judgement of their ultimate loyalty did not falter.

31 “Simon, Simon! Look, Satan has sought to sift you all like wheat.
32 However, I have prayed
that your own faith not fail.
Once you have turned back,
strengthen your brothers.”
33 But he said to him,
“Lord, with you I am ready to go prison and even to death.”
34 Jesus said, “Peter, the rooster will not crow today
before you have denied knowing me three times.”

Jesus’ sense of Satan sat comfortably with the curious depiction in the Book of Job. There Satan’s role was essentially that of tester, a role permitted by God.

The threat of the ultimate test - the temptation - had surfaced consistently in the narrative. Jesus had been tested. Soon Jesus would engage in his final test by Satan outside on the Mount of Olives. He had taught his disciples to pray that they not be put to the test. Now Jesus warned that they would soon face their test, a test that they would in fact fail.

In most of the narrative Jesus had used the name Peter. Now, for unspecified reasons, he called him Simon, and indeed, repeated the name twice. Perhaps it was his way to emphasise Peter’s frailty, the imperfection of the man before he had come to know Jesus.

Jesus had prayed that Simon’s faith not fail. Under testing, Simon’s courage would fail, but his persistent faith would be the reason precisely for his subsequent bitter regret and repentance. Once repentant, having turned back, he would have the responsibility to strengthen the other failed disciples, his brothers. In their weakness they would finally recognise their solidarity.

Simon’s response was probably not surprising. His enthusiasm was not lacking. His self-knowledge was deficient.

Luke’s details about Simon’s triple denial before the first rooster crow were probably drawn from later tradition, rather than reflecting any special detailed knowledge of the future on Jesus’ part.

The message was significant. The future community, leaders included (perhaps even especially!), would be comprised of weak and fallible members, people always in process and unfinished. Sin was not unexpected. What mattered was the humility to repent, along with a readiness to assist each other. Jesus had celebrated the originating Eucharist with sinners - disciples, indeed, but betrayers and cowards also.


Supper Discourse – Trusting Vulnerability

Luke 22:35-38  -  Ready for Conflict 

35 He also said to them
“When I sent you out without pack or purse or sandals,
did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing!” 
36 Then he said to them “But now, if you have a pack,
bring it, and likewise a purse.
And if you have no sword,
sell your tunic and buy one.
37 For I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in me,
He was numbered among the lawless.’
Indeed, what there is written there about me is being fulfilled.”
38 They replied, “Look, Lord, we have two swords!”
But he said, “That will do!”

Jesus’ directive about no purse, pack or sandals referred to his explicit commission to the seventy [10:4]. (He had made no mention of sandals when sending the apostles.)

Around Galilee, they were among people with whom they shared much in common. Their journeys were short, their duration brief. Jesus was popular. His message initially seemed attractive.

The mood had changed. This was Judea. The Jewish leadership was fiercely hostile. The Roman “peace keepers” were arrogant and brutal. They would see Jesus as a potentially dangerous rebel. They would soon arrest him, and condemn him to a violent and degrading death.

To illustrate the danger graphically, Jesus told them that now they would need their swords. He was speaking metaphorically. Oblivious to all he had taught them in the past, they understood him literally and assured him that they already had two swords between them (useful protection against marauding animals when sleeping out at night). Jesus’ ambiguous comment was dismissive: That will do! They had missed his point. 

[Jesus’ comment echoed God’s reprimand of Moses who had expressed his desire to cross the Jordan and to set foot on the Promised Land. Recalling it, Moses wrote:

But the Lord God was angry with me ...
and would not heed me.
The Lord said to me: “Enough from you!
Never speak to me of this matter again!” (Deuteronomy 3:26)]

In the aftermath of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the mission field of the twelve would change. Their future mission would be to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations. They would face a different world. Yet whatever the future held for them, Jesus invited them to trust in him.

The Eucharist of the Christian community is a confession of trust in the power of God, a certainty that Jesus’ way of inclusion, justice, compassion and non-violence is the only way that can bring life to a world ruled by honour, oppression, insensitivity and violence.

When Jesus had finished his discourse, the Paschal Meal came to an end with their singing together the second part of the Hallel Psalms and their common sharing of the final cup. Jesus and the disciples left the room and stepped outside into the night, lit now by the full moon of Passover.

They proceeded immediately to their usual spot on the Mount of Olives (21.37). Judas knew their location, but he was no longer with them. Had anyone, other than Jesus, noticed his absence?

Next >> Luke 22:39-46