We now begin journeying through the final six places to which Jesus went on the way to the tomb, sometimes voluntarily and sometimes forced by others (Jesus mostly appears passive as his end approaches). In our devotions, we’ll spend a few days at each place, prayerfully wondering over Mark’s words. The six places, all in Jerusalem, are: 1) The Upper Room; 2) The Mount of Olives and Gethsemane; 3) The High priest’s place; 4) Pilate’s Resident; 5) Golgotha; 6) The Tomb. You’ll also notice that Mark gets specific about the day and hour, beginning with “the first day of Unleavened Bread.” Stations four and five are marked by the specific hour (nine o’clock, noon, etc.) of Jesus’ last day.
PREPARE TO LISTEN. Begin with the usual silence and then pray: O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. (Psalm 107:1)
READ: Mark 14:12-21 Station 1: The upper room. ‘On the first day’
12On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, ‘Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?’ 13So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, 14and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, “The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” 15He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.’ 16So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal. 17When it was evening, he came with the twelve. 18And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.’ 19They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, ‘Surely, not I?’ 20He said to them, ‘It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me. 21For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.’
“On the first day.” The countdown to Jesus’ journey to the cross has begun. We join the journey in the first of six locations Jesus went to, the Upper Room. The story begins with preparation for Passover to be eaten with his disciples. Over half the reading is devoted to preparation instructions with nothing said about the meal itself. They are rather strange and unusual instructions. The two disciples would be met by “a man carrying a jar of water,” a job normally reserved for women. He would lead them to home with a room ready for Jesus. Once again, Mark leaves us with mystery—who was the man carrying water and who was the owner of the home and how did they know what to do? I wonder how many of us as would have obeyed Jesus without a word had he sent us on this odd mission. I fear I’d have requested more detail, please!
Jesus and the rest of the disciples arrived at the house under cover of darkness, hinting at the intrigue that is brewing around Jesus. Mark gives no detail about their arrival, where they all sat or how the meal began. There is nothing until Jesus’ first ominous words, spoken while they ‘were eating’: “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” Jesus’ last days begin with a warning: the betrayer is one eating with Jesus, dipping bread in the same bowl. This is an intimate scene between trusted friends, but Jesus predicts a shocking violation by one of his friends. Perhaps Jesus’ mind wandered to Psalm 41:9: “Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted the heel against me.”
The reaction of disciples is surprising. They’re all distressed, thinking Jesus meant them. Were they feeling guilty, perhaps? Afraid of what they’d do? And so they all ask, ‘Surely, not I?’ Jesus merely repeats what he said with a little more detail and a severe warning to the betrayer. Although Jesus knows who his betrayer is, he doesn’t name him, offering a compassion he didn’t deserve.
The Upper Room, the first ‘station’ to the cross is uncomfortable and shocking. Jesus resists comforting and superficial sayings; gets straight to the point, letting them all know he knows that one of them will betray him. He does so without any word of condemnation, only a warning of disturbing consequences: ‘It would have been better for that one not to have been born.’ Apparently, Judas ignored the warning.
Betrayal comes in different forms. We may never ‘turn Jesus in’ to his enemies, but we betray him when we fail to understand or misinterpret his identity and mission, turning it into a something that is inspirational and comforting, period; we betray Jesus when we support preachers and politicians who promote values and practices opposed to Jesus’ mission that includes suffering and siding with those on the periphery of power and influence.
Imagine being in that room and hearing Jesus’ prediction of betrayal and then reflect on your most likely response. How are you showing, by your words, actions, political choices, that you are standing with, not against Jesus?
What do you need from Jesus today?
RESPOND TO JESUS IN PRAYER
Lord Jesus, don’t let me become complacent, thinking I would never betray you. Help me stand up and be counted with you, whatever the cost to my comfort. Amen.
GO AND LIVE IN OBEDIENCE TO CHRIST, prepared for his causes, not your own.