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A lot of priests lived in the Jericho area, and so we as Jesus' hearers are not surprised to see one coming down from Jerusalem, perhaps after his priestly duties. Our hopes are raised for the poor man lying half-dead by the roadside, but then the priest passes by on the other side.

Our hopes are dashed.

Jesus' Jewish hearers may well have nodded their heads at this point: 'Yes, that's the clergy for you. Religious maybe, but Again our hopes are disappointed; again Jesus' hearers will probably have nodded their recognition of the situation: 'That's religious people for you So far Jesus' story has been one that has gripped his hearers' attention, involving them in the action. And so far they have been with him - sympathizing with the poor man and recognizing Jesus' portrait of the religiously hypocritical.

But what next? The way the story should go on for Jesus' hearers is that now a layman - an ordinary Jew - will come and do the decent thing for the poor man by the roadside. That would have made a most satisfactory story. Instead Jesus says, 'But a Samaritan while travelling came For Jesus' Jewish hearers this is a decidedly difficult turn in the story. Samaritans are irreligious half-castes with whom we like to have as little as possible to do.

The thought of a Samaritan coming up to me and helping me is very uncomfortable. But Jesus describes the Samaritan not just coming and doing the bare minimum to help the muggers' poor victim: no, the Samaritan does everything, bandaging the wounds, pouring in his own oil and wine, putting the man on his donkey, taking him to the inn, paying the innkeeper for several days' care, even promising to return and pay anything extra that may be needed.

Going the second mile is not in it! The Samaritan is amazingly kind! What are Jesus' hearers to make of this story? It is a gripping account, which then takes a problematic turn. Jesus challenges his hearers through the story to choose whether they are going to continue with their traditional prejudice, which wanted to limit their neighbour-love to fellow Jews see the question that introduces the parable in , or whether they will accept Jesus' revolutionary attitude which is that our love should be even for our enemies Mt.

Jesus invites his hearers to 'Go and do likewise' - to be like the amazingly generous, unprejudiced Samaritan of the parable. Scholars have described what happens in a parable like that of the Good Samaritan as a 'language-event'[ 1 ] The parable does not just give us information about the sort of people we should be; it involves us and confronts us with a choice - a choice between our old prejudice dislike of the Samaritans and others and Jesus' new way of the kingdom of God love of enemies, such as Jesus himself exemplified.

Not all Jesus' parables are such powerfully engaging dramas; but it is illuminating to see the Last Supper as just such a parabolic drama, and it is helpful to interpret the Supper as we would a parable. In interpreting parables we need, as we have seen, to understand their context. Secondly, there is the context of Jesus' teaching: Jesus proclaimed the coming of God's revolutionary kingdom, and his parables must be seen in this context, not for example in the context of modern psychology Jesus was not intending to teach non-directive caring counselling through the portrayal of the Good Samaritan, but rather something about the revolution he had come to bring!

Academy & Author's Forum

Thirdly, there is the context of the story in the gospels and the hints or direct indications that the evangelists give us about the interpretation e. Another key to understanding Jesus' parables is appreciation of the form or shape of the particular parable being interpreted. The old allegorical method that saw significance in every detail of the parables for example, the two coins in the parable of the Good Samaritan and the more modern scholarly view that Jesus' parables all have only one point are both mistaken. Each parable must be judged on its merits: we must see how it is constructed, what the points of emphasis are, and so on.

The parable of the sower with its description of the four types of soil is - obviously enough - constructed as a multi-point parable; the parable of the Good Samaritan is much more nearly a one-point parable about neighbour-love , though there is probably a negative point about empty religion the priest and the Levite as well as a positive point. Given this preliminary discussion of method, we can turn to the Last Supper itself. What is the background to the story of the Last Supper and the context in which it must be interpreted?

The first thing to say is that the Last Supper story must be seen in the context of Jesus' proclamation of the kingdom of God, because this was so central to his ministry. We must interpret the Supper in a way that fits in with Jesus' proclamation that 'the kingdom of God has come near' Mk.

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What did he mean by this proclamation? To put it very simply: he meant that the day of God's salvation which the OT promised and which his contemporaries were longing for had dawned. First-century Palestine was, of course, an occupied country: the Roman imperialists had been in control of the country for almost a hundred years, and, although the Romans were relatively benign rulers, the high taxation that their subjects had to pay was a great burden on a poor country, and it was in any case extremely irksome to have to live under a culturally and religiously alien superpower.

Jesus' announcement of God's new day - of the day of God's rule - was good news. Jesus explained that God's marvellous OT promises to his people were being fulfilled in his ministry Lk.

Grace Is Power, Not Just Pardon

He was visibly overcoming that 'strong man' Satan and restoring the 'rule' or kingdom of God Mt. He did not bring the kingdom all at once to the disappointment of his disciples , but he saw himself as starting the process, like a sower sowing his seed that would produce the harvest see the parables of Mt. If the broad context of the Last Supper was Jesus' proclamation of the kingdom of God, the more particular context was his last journey up to Jerusalem.

Jesus had come up from Galilee with his disciples to the holy city in order to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem. This journey was, as Jesus made clear and as his disciples recognized, one of particular significance. We read that 'Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem' Lk. They knew that something momentous was to happen in Jerusalem.

According to Luke they hoped that Jesus was now going to complete the revolution that. Their excitement was evident as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, and they welcomed him as king. But Jesus' own understanding was different.

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Yes, the journey was of momentous importance. But he had spoken mysteriously of the need for him to suffer e. It did not fit into their understanding of the kingdom. But Jesus knew himself to be on the way to his death. The Last Supper comes in this context - of excitement and anticipation and of Jesus' death.

The Last Supper Bible Story Study Guide

Jesus was, of course, right. The Last Supper led directly to Jesus' betrayal 'on the night that he was betrayed The third thing to note by way of background is that the Last Supper took place at Passover time. Passover was a great pilgrimage festival for the Jews. The German scholar Joachim Jeremias has calculated that Jerusalem's regular population was around 30,; it was quite a small city by our standards. But Jeremias reckons that perhaps , pilgrims came to Jerusalem each Passover. We can imagine the crowds and the excitement of the feast, the packed guest-houses and camping grounds, even out as far as Bethany.

Passover was tremendously important for the Jews, being the annual celebration of God's deliverance of his people from Egypt Ex. They remembered the exodus under Moses, the great liberation from slavery. The festival was a feast of remembrance and of identification: it was seen not just as a celebration of what happened 'to them', i. It was not only a backward-looking festival, but also apparently a feast of anticipation. A rabbinic saying runs as follows: 'In this night we were delivered, in this night we will be delivered', and a modern Jewish scholar[ 2 ] speaks of Passover time as 'permeated by a thirst for, and an immediate expectation of, salvation'.

The celebration of God's liberation in the past and the anticipation of this future liberation will have had a special poignancy in the face of the Roman occupation of Palestine. The focus of the feast was the Passover meal. John's gospel gives a different impression, suggesting that the Passover meal took place after, not before, the crucifixion.

This divergence between the Synoptics and John is a particularly knotty question of gospel harmony, and there are various different explanations: was Passover celebrated on two different days of the week by different Jewish groups there is some evidence of this? Did Jesus celebrate Passover early with his disciples, because he knew that he was going to be arrested very soon? Is John referring not to the Passover meal itself as happening after the crucifixion, but to other festal meals that took place in Passover week?

We will not explore these suggestions here, but simply express the opinion that the Last Supper was indeed a Passover meal. Even if it was not, the argument of this article is not seriously damaged: on any reckoning the Last Supper took place in the Passover season and had a Passover background. If it was a Passover, what probably happened? On the afternoon of the fourteenth the Passover lambs were killed in the temple, and then in the evening the family would gather for the meal, which would be served on low tables, with everyone reclining around the tables on couches or cushions.

It may have been customary to dress in white. The first course was eaten after the father of the family had prayed, giving thanks to God for Passover day and for the first cup of wine - there were four cups in the course of the meal. The wine would be drunk, and the first course consisted of bitter herbs dipped in a sauce of fruits and spices. Then came the main 'service' part of the meal or the liturgy , when the father of the family would explain the exodus story and its meaning in response to leading questions from one of his sons.

A hymn was sung probably Psalms , , and the second cup of wine was drunk. Then came the main course. First, the father would give thanks for the unleavened bread, which he would break and pass to his guests. We may guess that it was at this point that Jesus took the bread and interpreted it as 'my body'. Then the roast lamb would be served with herbs and sauces.

After this had been eaten the father would give thanks for the third cup of wine, the so-called 'cup of blessing'. We may guess that it was this cup which Jesus took 'after supper' and spoke of as 'my blood'. The meal would then end with the singing of more psalms Pss. Whether or not all the details are correct, seeing the Last Supper in this sort of context makes a lot of sense. It makes sense of the details of the Supper as described in the gospels, including the interesting 'longer text' of Luke's gospel, which has Jesus give two cups to his disciples, one before the bread and one after Lk.


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More importantly, it helps make sense of the Supper as a whole, as we shall see. Although the first Lord's Supper was probably a Passover meal, the Synoptic Gospels focus their description on the two actions of Jesus in taking the bread and the wine and giving them to the disciples.

3 Important Questions for the Church about the Lord’s Supper

This was what was distinctive about this Passover, and these actions together with Jesus' words explaining his actions must be central in our interpretation of the Supper. The words vary slightly in the different gospels, but not in any way that complicates our task significantly.


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  4. Given the context and paying attention to the form of wording of the story, we can proceed towards an explanation of the Last Supper and Jesus' so-called eucharistic actions.