Lent, Day 38 — Maundy Thursday

Jesus’s Manifesto: The Sermon on the Mount
Maundy  Thursday

For these last few devotionals, we are viewing the events of Holy Week through the lens of the Sermon on the Mount. Tonight is Maundy Thursday, when we remember the Last Supper Jesus had with his disciples. Maundy is the same root word as mandate, and it refers to Jesus’s words in the Gospel of John: “I give you a new commandment (mandate): that you love one another” (13:34).

These words are from the supper portrayed in John’s gospel, but they reflect the substance of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus tells his followers to be “complete in love,” as God is complete (5:46-48). Jesus said that all the Law and the Prophets hinged on treating others as we would be treated (7:12). It’s fitting that Jesus’s last words to his disciples echo this central theme of his teaching. It’s like he’s saying, “If there’s one thing I want to leave y’all with, it’s that love is central. Love fulfills the Bible. It is why you are here. It is the power of God in the world, and it is why religion-for-show is useless and hurtful. Whatever else you remember about me, remember love.”

The picture of the Last Supper has another similarity with the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is together with his closest disciples. In both places, we are “overhearing” his teaching—although it is addressed to us as well. He tells this community of prophets what will happen to him: That he is about to be handed over and crucified.

He even tells them how it will happen: One of them will betray him. With the Sermon on the Mount recently in our ears, we can hear echoes of “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you dressed like sheep, but inside they are vicious wolves” (7:15).

The Passover supper that they celebrate is still practiced in Jewish tradition today. It commemorates the big Exodus event, when God set the Hebrews free from Egyptian oppression. Jesus’s thoroughly Jewish theology sees God consistently doing the same liberating work. That’s why he says, “I have not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them” (5:17-20).

Many Christians hear the verb “fulfill” as if it means to confirm a prediction, or to finish something that’s incomplete. For example, prophecy gets fulfilled if a prophet predicts a city’s destruction, and then it happens. But Jesus seems to view fulfillment in a different way. He sees his action in giving himself up to the authorities as part of God’s long, unbroken action in history. God is doing the same kind of thing in Jesus that God did at Passover, when God freed slaves. Jesus is expressing God’s love for the world. That’s how he “fulfills” the Law and the Prophets.

In other words, the commandment to “Love one another” is not really new. It’s been implicit there, in the Bible, the whole time. Jesus is simply making it explicit, both in his words and his actions.

Holy Week Prayer:
Love who gave birth to Everything, reveal yourself to us.