Twelve for Dinner
A few years ago, our church hosted a “walk to Calvary”. We paraded into Jerusalem waving our “palm” branches. Our path took us through several scenes, ending at an empty garden tomb. At one point, we stopped in the upper room to celebrate Passover. The table had paper placemats placed randomly around the table. The placemats were ‘monogramed’ in sharpie with the names of the disciples. Jesus was in the center, but John was at the end of another table. I gasped at my placemat, Judas.
This shocking event drove me to research the seating arrangement of that monumental meal. We see it as DaVinci’s famous painting, which is not at all true.
The seating at Jesus’ last meeting and meal with his beloved disciples was not a coincidence. In Jesus’ time, the upper room of a home held a U-shaped table that allowed the servants to serve from the middle. It would have been extremely low to the floor with no chairs, only large pillows. Diners reclined on their left side, heads toward the table and legs stretched out behind, eating with their right hands. In this position, the lowest servant could easily wash guest’s feet.
The seating of the guests was intentional. Tradition and custom required that the host sit in the second seat on the left. The first and third seats would be for honored guests. The others would be seated around the U in order of their importance. The least honored guest would be at the end of the U on the right side. While this seat would be across from the host, it would be several yards away and with a servant in the middle. This seat was nearest the basin and pitcher used for foot washing. Not a choice seat.
A close look at the scripture surrounding this event provides interesting inferences. Jesus, the host, was reclining in the second spot at the left of the table. John 13:23 says that John was “reclining next to” Jesus. In order for John to “lean back against Jesus” (verse 25) he would have had to be sitting at Jesus’ right, the first seat of the table. This same passage indicates that Peter “motioned” for John to inquire of Jesus. Peter had to be sitting far enough away that he could not ask the question, yet close enough to get John’s attention. Scholars believe Peter was sitting across the table in the least important seat. That does not sound like the Peter we all know and love. That brings up an entirely new discussion, how did Peter get in the least important seat? (Maybe next week’s post?)
To Jesus’ immediate left, was the most honored seat of all. The guest here would share a bowl with the host. This was the seat for the most respected and recognized guest. At this Passover supper, Judas, sat in this honored position. Judas. All four gospel writers acknowledge the presence of a traitor sharing the bowl with Jesus.
Jesus knew that Judas was the betrayer, He said as much at dinner. And yet, Judas was sitting in the most honored seat. I want to think that Judas must have elbowed his way to that seat. But, because of what I know about Jesus, it’s possible that He placed Judas next to Him. It’s possible his heart said, “Here it is, Judas, one last opportunity to choose Me. One last time let me show you how much I love you. Take one more chance to change your mind”. In one more action to show His love, Jesus washed Judas’ feet along with the others. In His fully human form, He must have cringed as he scrubbed the dirt from between Judas’ toes. But His love overcame his heartache. At that table, in those excruciating moments, Jesus forgave Judas for what he was about to do.
Sitting in Judas’ seat, (albeit not factual) His great love overwhelmed me that day. His example of how to treat a betrayer, those who deliver the most devastating blows; I was convicted.
Is there a betrayer in your history? While it likely did not lead to physical death, it doubtless led to the death of many other things. A marriage, trust, a job, a friendship,? Jesus’ example at the last supper compels us to give a betrayer an honored place in our history. John Eldredge writes, “Forgiveness is saying the cross is enough.” *
I declare today, The cross IS enough.
*John Eldredge, Moving Mountains (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Books, 2016)