Today is Maundy Thursday, so named because the word “Maundy” shares its root meaning with the English word “mandate.” According to John 13, on the last night of his life, Jesus gave us a new commandment, or “mandate,” that we love one another. Of course, we did the same thing to that commandment as we did to Jesus: we made it a toothless, insipid cliché that lets us feel good about ourselves.
In their book The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus’s Final Week in Jerusalem, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan offer an old, yet new, understanding of the last night of Jesus’ life. As Jesus sat at the table with his friends he was continuing what was central to his ministry. The meal they shared that night was not a symbolic piece of bread and sip of wine; it was a full meal. Sharing a meal was a distinctive feature of Jesus’ public activity. He often taught at meals and was criticized for the people with whom he chose to eat. Jesus eats with publicans and sinners, undesirables and outcasts. His practice of sharing meals with the marginalized symbolized inclusion in a society that had clear social boundaries.
In the sharing of the bread and wine, Jesus reminded the disciples that it was about feeding people. The words of the Gospel that describe how Jesus “took, blessed, broke, and gave” the bread to his disciples are the same words used in the story of the feeding of the 5,000 people who had gathered in a desolate place to hear Jesus teach. Jesus asks his disciples to feed the people, even though they have told him to send them away. After finding some bread and fish, through the blessing of Jesus, all are fed, and there is enough left over to fill baskets with food.
That seems to be how it is whenever we truly obey the new, and last, mandate to love one another.
Rev. Michael Piazza