Thursday, April 18, 2019

Holy Week 2019: Maundy Thursday

In the history of the gospels and letters, the earliest supposed document is the "Passion Narrative."  This is a conjectured document that predates the Gospel of Mark, although all we know of its text is the Markan passion narrative (Mark 14:32-15:47), so it doesn't include the institution of the Eucharist.  For that, in chronological order, we have to turn to Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 11, verses 23-34, written sometime between 50-60 C.E.

If you accept the earliest dating of the Didache, you could say that's the next reference.  But the Didache presumes a "Eucharist" to which it adds two prayers for the ritual.  Dating of the Didache also varies between 50-120 C.E., so it doesn't add much to consideration of how the words of institution were established (since it doesn't have any).  The next appearance is in the Gospel of Mark (c. 65-80 CE.), in language that echoes Paul's words to the Corinthians.  Matthew and Luke get their words of institution from Mark; John has no eucharist story.    Instead, in John's gospel Jesus talks for four chapters, prays for one, and then they all go out to the garden for Judas and the Roman soldiers (after all that talking, the action is almost a breath of fresh air).

I mentioned before that it's the Johannine version of the anointing that's referenced in "JCS."  Both Mark and Matthew (c. 80-100 C.E.) note complaints about the expensive ointment being wasted; but both attribute the complaints to the general response of those present.  Luke (c. 80-130 C.E.) transfers the tale to the home of Simon the Pharisee, who complains (internally) about the woman even being in his home, and Jesus accepting her favors.  John moves the story back to the passion narrative, but now the complainer is Judas, the one who betrays Jesus, as he does in all four gospels.  One has to admit it makes for a better narrative to be able to give the common complaint to one person to espouse.

At the beginning of "JCS" Judas opens his lament with the words "You've begun to matter more than the things you say."  That is the eternal tension in the story of Jesus:  does what he said matter, or is it who he was?  Paul is largely on the latter side of that question, the gospels on the other.  But then, people who ignore what Jesus said about the poor and care for each other, focus more on Jesus as savior and salvation depends on the right brand of "belief."  Too much focus on what Jesus said, though, and who is Jesus but another philosopher, another "life teacher"?

Every man his own Judas, eh?

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