This year’s gospel reading for Corpus Christi was Mark’s account of the eucharist (14:12-16; 22-25). I wonder how many people noticed that a vital piece of the text (vv.17-21) was omitted. The sorrowful reference by Jesus to ‘one of you betraying me’ is the first framing text for Mark’s eucharist. The second framing text is Jesus’ prophecy that all of his disciples who ate with him would fall away and Peter would deny him (14:26-31). This setting for the eucharist casts a tragic light over the whole meal. Already Jesus is in his passion, and his passover is celebrated among a people who do not understand.
We were warned of this when his disciples asked him ‘Where will you have us go and prepare for you (singular) to eat the passover?’ Luke has ‘us’ to prepare the meal, for there Jesus can say ‘I have longed to eat this passover with you’ (Lk 22:15). There the meal is a true celebration among friends. But Mark’s disciples have failed throughout the gospel to accept and understand the need for a suffering messiah, and their misunderstanding extends even into the meal.
As we reflect on who constitutes that group of disciples at supper with Jesus we find a traitor, painfully referred to in the garden scene as ‘one of the twelve’, one who denied his master three times, the three in the garden who could not watch with Jesus at the time he most needed their support, and the rest who abandoned him and fled. Let’s stay with Peter’s denial for a moment. We are told in 14:71 that Peter called down a curse. The Greek does not say ‘on himself’ as in the RSV. What Mark is probably referring to is the prevailing Roman practice of his day when one accused of being a Christian had to sacrifice to the Roman gods and call down a curse on Jesus. I sometimes wonder if Peter’s offence was every bit as bad as that of Judas, though Mark tells us that Peter broke down and wept for his action.
The point of all this is to identify who it was that Jesus first shared eucharist with, because it raises serious questions about those we exclude from the eucharist, those on whose behalf our archbishop pleaded last year in Rome. The painful question arises: what have we done to the eucharist? Have we made into the bread of saints what was initially bread for sinners? My old scripture professor in the Philippines would celebrate mass in Mindanao where the congregation consisted of big sugar plantation owners who in many cases exploited and robbed their labourers. In the congregation were women whose husbands had walked out on them. They had found someone else to live with but were now forbidden eucharist, while those guilty of what used to be termed sins that cry out to heaven for vengeance, were permitted to approach the table of the Lord. God must indeed be puzzled at times by our human restrictions.
While on the surface we are given the passion of Jesus, underlying the story is the passion the community experiences in its living out of the gospel in the world today. Sadly, desertion (14:27), denial (14:30), and betrayal (14:44-45) mark the then and now of the passion. The effects of division among the communities that call themselves Christian yet are so divided on many issues, not least being inter-communion, is one area that comes to mind.
To this day every Christian must ask ‘Is it I? – Am I a betrayer of the Lord Jesus?’ And none more so than those who follow in the footsteps of the first disciples as leaders of the community.