The Meal of Jesus and his Friends
On the night before he was killed, Jesus gathered his friends and ate with them a memorable supper. Like all faithful Jews in Jerusalem, maybe he planned to eat the Passover meal with them while on pilgrimage on these holy days of the Jews. But he could not because they were overtaken by events; he was arrested and tried before the Passover. (To think that the Last Supper was a Paschal meal of the Jewish Passover is not based on historical fact but a product of later theological reflection of evangelists). Instead, he ate a simple but solemn farewell meal.
The details are clear to us (Mark 14: 13-15; Matt 26: 26-30; Luke 22: 14-20; 1 Cor 11: 23-26). Or are they? The painting of Leonardo da Vinci (Il cenacolo, 1498) now housed at the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, no matter how beautiful, does not say it all. Given Jesus’ welcoming attitude to all kinds of people into feasts and banquets – women, men, poor, sinners – nothing could be further from the truth. The rest of the pilgrims who walked with Jesus to Jerusalem – women and men – all disciples of Jesus could have been there. They were used to eating together; Jesus tells his stories and reveals himself mostly during these meals. Leonardo da Vinci in fact got it all wrong; not only the men – all of them were there.
Like other Jewish meals, he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to his disciples. They already knew this ritual before. But tonight, something was different. He told them in a solemn voice: “This bread is my body, broken, given. Share it.” Then, he took the cup, said the blessing as he used to do and drunk from the cup which is the sign for the rest to drink their own cup. But tonight, he changed the ritual. He made them use one cup, his cup. “This cup is the new covenant of my blood, shed for you and for all.” This is how he wants to be remembered – someone committed to serve them: “Do this in remembrance of me.”
The phrase “for you” sums up the whole of Jesus’ life – a life poured out for all, for the coming of the God’s reign. [Liturgical excursus: Though the Greek word hyper pollon means “for many” (Latin pro multis), following other scholars, the Aramaic language which Jesus spoke refers to an inclusive totality, for everyone, “for all”. I am aware that this is against the recent English translation of the liturgy].
Different writers emphasize one aspect of the meal or the other. The words of institution are not the same in all of them. But curiously John’s gospel is silent about these special words in the breaking of the bread and sharing of the cup. He narrated the washing of the feet instead. Expressed in a different ritual, the message, however, is the same: that we should wash each other’s feet as we pour out our lives for all. The master should be the slave of all. And since everyone was there, the Master washed everyone’s feet – men and women, sinner and saint, Mary Magdalene’s and Matthew’s, Judas Iscariot’s and John’s, and all – to the protestations of Simon Peter who always did not get it till the end.
This would be the last meal he will eat with them, he said, until the coming of God’s kingdom.
The Meal of Juan and his Children
On December 5, 2016, the night before he was killed, Juan came back to his shanty in Payatas. He avoided coming home because he knew he was on the drug watchlist. It was said that he was classified as “zero-zero” (which means for extermination). His wife Lourdes was already in jail by then; she was taken to police custody on the police’s first visit three months ago. Because Juan was not there, it is his pregnant wife that they took for cuddling a drug addict or drug pusher (palit-ulo). Lourdes in the meantime delivered her youngest son in prison (their seventh child) where she is detained until now.
Juan missed his children so much. It was Christine’s birthday on December 6 – her second child. He came home the night before, brought some spaghetti to cook and celebrate. He cooked it for them at breakfast. He fed his children in a simple but joyful birthday meal. Spaghetti is an extraordinary treat for a family at the foot of the garbage mountain. The children were happy that their father came home even for just a night. He was also extraordinarily in high spirits. After the children ate, he himself started eating. He was supposed to go back to Manila right that morning in order to work but also to evade the police searching for those on the drug list. Before he finished, plainclothes policemen forced themselves into the house, dragged the children out, and shot Juan. He pleaded for his life but they did not listen. They shot him in his chest and at his back. But before they finished him off, he was still able to tell Christine who was just there and saw it all: “Huwag mong pabayaan ang mga kapatid mo.” When he was lying lifeless, the police placed a gun on his right hand and a packet of shabu on his left. The official report said: it was a buy bust operation and he fought back (nanlaban).
When the policemen lifted his body to their car to bring him to the hospital in a gesture of saving his life, they passed through a group of neighbors who were so afraid to say anything. It was one of the policemen who said: “Pasensiya na po Ate. Hindi siya nagbago, eh.” (Sorry, it was because he did not change his ways.)
He whom this present government categorizes as an “animal”, “subhuman”, “rapist”, “a hopeless case”, “one who could no longer change” --- selflessly “broke his bread” and “poured his own blood” for the persons he loved.
On December 6, between 9 to 10 in the morning, a “Eucharist” was celebrated at the foot of the dumpsite in Chocolate Hills, Payatas B, Quezon City. Someone just offered his life for all.
St. Vincent School of Theology - Adamson University