Text: Luke 22:24-38
Kingdom talk enveloped the last supper Jesus ate with his disciples. It was Passover time. Kingdom expectations were in the air. Jewish sensibilities were heightened during the Passover as they anticipated the imminent arrival of the Messiah. Jesus had predicted that by the time of the next Passover the kingdom would have already come. In that atmosphere the discussion at the table was no doubt lively and boisterous. Indeed, the disciples debated who among them would be considered the greatest in Jesus’ kingdom.
But there was another dimension to that table. The atmosphere was also ominous and foreboding. Jesus knew that hostility to him had reached a climax—the blade was hot and ready to strike. Judas had betrayed him and that night Jesus would face his enemies in the garden and at the house of the high priest. Jesus would be tried, but so would the disciples. Even at the table they debated who the betrayer might be.
There were two discussions at that table—one about the kingdom and one about betrayal…and both pointed to the failure of the disciples to grasp and embrace the mission of Jesus.
Judas had already had his trial, and he failed. His end would not involve redemption. He opted out of the mission of Jesus. But the rest of the disciples would also be tried that night. They would face temptation, like the temptation of Jesus in the garden itself. And they would desert their teacher. Where Jesus called them to lose their lives in his mission so that they might save them, they chose to preserve their lives by denying him.
Jesus’ table talk accentuates three failures on the part of the disciples. They failed to grasp the servant character of the kingdom of Jesus. They failed the test of discipleship—to follow Jesus into suffering. They failed to grasp the nonviolent nature of Jesus’ mission.
The kingdom table is about service. When the disciples argued about who was the greatest in the kingdom of God, Jesus rebuked their ambitious desires. They had failed to grasp the nature of Jesus’ own regal leadership. Unlike pagan benefactors who use wealth and power to secure their own interests and dominate others, Jesus sacrifices his own body and blood for the sake of others. Even though he is the host of this table, he nevertheless serves it. His kingdom table embodies self-emptying, self-sacrifice and self-abasement. He does not exploit power or status for his own self-interests, but for the sake of others.
The kingdom table is about following Jesus into suffering for the sake of the world. This is the trial that the disciples would face that very night. Satan determined, with divine permission, to test their loyalty and commitment to discipleship (“you” is plural). Will they suffer with Jesus or will they save their own lives? Satan would find out, and Jesus knew the answer. So, Jesus prays that the disciples, Peter in particular, would find the faith to renew their commitment and strengthen each other. They will fail, but Jesus hopes for their future and envelops them with grace.
The kingdom table is about encountering hostility with non-violence. Unlike previous instructions in his ministry, here Jesus counsels his disciples to take bags and clothes with them. The situation has changed. Instead of the popular ministry of healing and preaching in Galilee, now in Judea—in the temple precincts—the ministry of Jesus encounters violent hostility. Now Jesus counsels buying swords. And the disciples inform him that they have two daggers. “It is enough,” Jesus says. Would two daggers be enough for self-defense? No, it is enough because Jesus has no intention of using the daggers in his kingdom mission. Indeed, he later rebukes Peter when he responds violently with one of those daggers and Jesus warns that those who live by the sword die by the sword. “It is enough” does not mean that they have sufficient weaponry but rather more like “enough of this discussion…you disciples still don’t understand.” The Son of Man must be numbered with the transgressors; he will defeat evil through suffering rather than through violence. Jesus will not return evil for evil. He will overcome evil with good.
We sit at this same table every Sunday. When eat the Lord’s Supper we sit at his kingdom table. This table calls us to service, discipleship and non-violence.
This is Luke’s story—it is the good news of the kingdom of God. The kingdom comes among us in the person of Jesus as one who serves others, suffers for others and loves his enemies rather than returning evil for evil.
As disciples of Jesus who eat at his table this is our story as well. To sit at the table of Jesus is to embrace his story and to follow him. In our journey through Luke, we have followed Jesus into the water, and followed him into the wilderness. We have followed him to tables with sinners and prostitutes. We have followed him in ministry to the disenfranchised (widows), outsiders (tax collectors), lepers (even a Samaritan one), and outcasts (the poor). We have sat with him at a Passover table, and now we are called to follow him to the cross.
And the question is now ours. As we sit at table with Jesus today, are we willing to follow the one who serves others instead of his own ambitions? Are we willing to follow Jesus to a cross? Are we willing to love our enemies? Or, are we more like the disciples at that Passover table than we might like to admit?
Despite our failures—despite the failures of the disciples—Jesus invites us to his table. He even anticipates our failures but yet graciously invites us back. Jesus even today prays for his disciples as the great high priest, and today we draw on his strength to embrace his kingdom mission and follow him. Today we sit at table with Jesus and encourage each other to continue the mission of Jesus, even if it costs us our ambitions, wealth, power and lives.