Editor’s note: This Lent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
By Dr. Polly Coote
We’re arriving at the center point of Luke’s story of the journey from Palm Sunday to Good Friday. Jesus has made a triumphal public entry into Jerusalem, acclaimed by the crowd as a king in song echoing the angel host at his birth: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord, peace on earth and glory in the highest!”
He’s spent some time teaching in the temple by day, with only minor disruption to temple routines, and spending the night in the open on the Mount of Olives. “Keep awake!” he admonishes in his teaching.
These activities will be mirrored at the end of the time frame: Jesus returns at night to the Mount of Olives with the disciples — where he will have to ask them, “Why are you sleeping?” — and then is hauled off to be tried before earthly rulers on charges of claiming to be king.
In the center of the frame is Jesus’ celebration of the Passover meal with his disciples, where Luke gives us a full account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. But that’s not all. Talk after the meal turns from querying which one of the company is going to betray Jesus to a dispute among them over who is the greatest. Jesus responds to both issues with a speech on the nature of kingship and the kingdom/community that the table fellowship has prefigured. Unlike earthly rulers who lord it over their subjects and are grandly known as benefactors, the great person among them should be a server, as he has been, he says, not a banquet guest who is served. After these trials together, all in the company may eat and drink at the table in his kingdom and be enthroned as judges over the twelve tribes of Israel.
Twelve disciples to judge twelve tribes? Maybe not. There’s an inner frame around this core as well, one side of which is today’s passage, the plot to betray Jesus, and the other side is the betrayal itself. On this side, “Satan” enters into Judas, pointedly labeled one of the twelve, and apparently motivates him to desert to the authorities. Judas will be labeled similarly in the mirror event of actual betrayal, “one of the twelve.” Judas is not the only weak link, however. Jesus’s speech after the supper segues from the disciples’ enthronement in the kingdom to a warning: “Satan demanded (requisitioned) to sift all of you like grain in a sieve,” but Jesus names specifically Peter as liable to be caught in the sieve, shaky in his pistis, his faith, trust, loyalty. Peter too will in fact betray Jesus’ trust and desert for a time. Satan doesn’t offer any incentives to deserters, or any alternative easy route to kingship, nor does he compel Judas to do anything against his will. Satan simply is the sifter who exposes the husks and pebbles in the sifted grain, the flaws in unvigilant disciples’ allegiance. It’s a 24/7 commitment to be a true follower of the servant king.
Dr. Polly Coote is a former faculty member, associate dean, and registrar at San Francisco Theological Seminary.