Updated: Dec 1, 2021
Dr. RB McFee
“For I (Paul) received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when He was betrayed took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also He took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”
1 Corinthians 11:23 – 26
I almost titled this “Saying “Grace” – Beyond thankfulness, another lesson learned,” because….well let me start with a question….
How many times have you said grace before eating a snack or meal? If your upbringing is anything like mine whether at home or at a restaurant, saying a prayer at the onset is as essential to dining as utensils, and a napkin.
For some people of faith, it is a time of uttering to the Almighty quick gratitude, or an acknowledgement of God’s bounty, or a time of spiritual intimacy where holding hands, saying a prayer in unison and bowing heads is shared by all. And for many of us, our time of praying before eating might be any one of the above, depending upon the circumstances.
But how many of us consider saying grace as being more than a moment of reflection, or even profound gratitude. Do we think of it as another opportunity for personal intimacy with God, even a potentially transformative time?
God never fails to use the world as His classroom, if we take the time to listen….
Well the other day after whipping up an amazing baked liver meal, I was about to do my usual practice of saying grace, when I felt the need to go on my knees. Can’t explain it….but I did it. And in the course of reciting my prayer the image of Jesus at the Last Supper came to mind so powerfully.
And then bam!
For a moment I was there, and in the process realized that while Jesus was giving thanks, and celebrating the Passover meal, He was doing it with someone who betrayed Him - Judas. Jesus was also with a doubter – Thomas, a revolutionary – Simon the Zealot, and his loyal, but often challenging protégé Peter.
These “interesting” men, along with the other Disciples, had spent several years learning from, serving, and traveling with Jesus – often in dangerous situations. All of the twelve would eventually and willingly suffer for Jesus. Well, all except one – Judas, who still sat as an equal among equals among the Disciples. And Jesus knew it!
Yet until the moment when Jesus announces He was betrayed – towards the end of the meal – our Savior kept the remainder of the evening, and meal, one of love, shared intimacy, profound, and a time of Chag Pesach Sameach!
Moreover, in a split second I was reminded that throughout Jesus’ years of ministry He welcomed the unwelcomable, loved the unlovable, hugged the untouchable, forgave the unforgiven, was loyal to the disloyal, and kind to those who were unkind. He taught by authentic righteousness, was face to face, never behind the back, and dealt with people, and their issues – whether acknowledging, admonishing, accepting, or addressing whatever needed fixing.
Jesus invited Judas as one last time of Divine hospitality. Our Lord used the time as a teaching moment for those paying attention. It wasn’t to vilify Judas as the ‘betrayer’ left the meal. There were more profound lessons being taught – some we know, some to learn for ourselves. And unlike you, and me, when someone betrays us, painful though it is, or is snarky to us, the consequences are minor in comparison to what Jesus would endure thanks to Judas’ betrayal.
Yet our Lord treated Judas with hospitality. Jesus set a table where it wasn’t just the loyal, the loving, the desirable were invited. It is a helpful reminder when someone does me wrong, to look at my hands and remember no one put me on a cross by their unkindness. Ignore the slight, pray for them, move on.
After grace, as I sat eating dinner, reflecting upon the day that had transpired – moments of kindnesses from strangers, interactions with some snarky people, and conversations with friends, it dawned on me – how often do we share a meal, or even bother to reengage with those who have wronged us, or occupy the “other side” of politics, pandemic practices, policy, church philosophy, Biblical interpretation, or have slighted us in one way or another?
Yet that is precisely the point of Jesus’ hospitality at the Last Supper. Not everyone at the table did Him right. But Jesus treated all of them righteously.
It is easy to hang out – whether at church, work, our avocations, or other collectives – with those who have treated us right, who are friendly, and affirm us. Not so easy to make the effort to extend a friendly countenance, or even assistance, hospitality, or that all too precious commodity – time – with those who don’t exactly roll out the emotional or spiritual ‘welcome mat’ for us.
But Jesus has asked us to participate in a divine challenge – forgiveness, hospitality, love and understanding.
Perhaps that is the point of the scriptural guidance to not be of this world – because most people would brush by those who were snarky, cold, or unkind to them, instead of being of Christ’s world, and treating those folks the way Jesus treated Judas at the last supper.
Nowhere in the Bible do I read of Jesus placing Judas alone at a corner table during that fateful evening. On the contrary! Judas seemed to sit in a favored spot near Jesus, since they were close enough to dip their food into the same bowl. As anyone who has ever eaten a communal Middle Eastern meal – serving plates are usually set for mini groups within a larger group, so that bowls would likely service four or six people.
Thinking about Jesus showing Pesach hospitality to Judas, all the while knowing he betrayed Him, made me think about the hurts and the hurtful folks in my life. Could I have, can I show them kindness in spite of their behavior?
Turning the other cheek isn’t about becoming a punching bag. It is about looking at the situation from the eyes of Christ, not the instincts of a worldly human. It is about forgiveness. It is not about swinging back reflexively, or returning insult for insult.
This doesn’t suggest letting your guard down, or allowing people to repeatedly hurt you. Jesus did call out Judas, and others for bad behaviors. But Jesus’ default position was giving others grace, and forgiving them.
Turning the other cheek is Jesus’ way of teaching us to reset our reflexes from wanting to dish it out after being insulted, to looking at it from a different perspective – avoiding saying something regrettable, offering an opportunity to reflect Jesus’ love and forgiveness as a person of faith, or maybe giving grace to someone who needs it.
No place is immune – from our church, to our workplace, even our homes – loving people sometimes do unloving things. One wonders if people who do hurtful things have never received enough grace or kindness to transform them?
Can we do any less if we profess to follow Christ? To belong to Jesus? After all, our calling is to reflect His love to a world in dire need of grace, where too little forgiveness is given.
Isn’t that the real message of the Cross – forgiveness? Can we have true hospitality, true Christian love, as people - congregants, coworkers, members of a family, friends – without forgiveness?
If it was easy, Jesus wouldn’t expect His people to do it as a reflection of Him. How else do we convey our real love of Christ without giving grace – not just to the ones who agree with, or like us, but with those we aren’t sure of, disagree with, or don’t know us?
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Ephesians 4:29 – 32 ESV
Perhaps my Last Supper experience was a message to seek out someone who maybe isn’t part of the ‘Robin Fan Club.’ How about you? Is there someone at work, at home, at church who you have dismissed when maybe you can offer a smile and forgiveness instead? Can you think of someone who needs your grace even though perhaps they have failed to share it with you?
Have you or I failed to share grace except to those who make us feel loved?
As Christians it isn’t enough to pray, to preach, to attend church, or even volunteer if….
“If anyone says “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
1 John 4:20
If it was easy, Jesus wouldn’t challenge His faithful followers to do it! Loving our neighbors is easier said than done. Not everyone has “buddy” neighbors. But no one is without blemish; we all fall short of Jesus’ standards. We all have a log or a speck in our eyes.
If Jesus can host Judas, we can give grace when the rest of the world will not. Maybe that is one of the deep dive lessons of the Last Supper that transcends the millennia, no less than the sacrament of the bread and wine. After all, why did Jesus die, if not as an act of grace, and to redeem us, even when we didn’t deserve it?
Now I wonder, where will God’s next classroom be – during grace before another meal? At church, at a café? And most importantly….
Who do you and I know who needs some grace? Deserved or not?
www.metmuseum.org ©Creative Commons cco 1.0 public domain dedication
Renaissance painting of The Last Supper by Ugolina da Siena