Matthew 26:17-19

THE ANCESTRAL FEAST

Matt. 26:17-19

On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus. “Where,” they said, “do you wish that we should make the necessary preparations for you to eat the Passover?” He said, “Go into the city to such and such a man, and say to him, `The Teacher says, my time is near. I will keep the Passover with my disciples at your house.'” And the disciples did as Jesus instructed them, and made the preparations for the Passover.

It was for the Passover Feast that Jesus had come to Jerusalem. We have seen how crowded the city was at such a time. During the Passover Feast all Jews were supposed to stay within the boundaries of the city, but the numbers made that impossible; and for official purposes villages like Bethany, where Jesus was staying, ranked as the city.

But the Feast itself had to be celebrated within the city. The disciples wished to know what preparation they must make. Clearly Jesus had not left the matter to the last moment; he had already made his arrangements with a friend in Jerusalem, and he had already arranged a password–“The Teacher says, my time is near.” So the disciples were sent on to give the password and to make all the necessary preparations.

The whole week of which the Passover Feast occupied the first evening was called The Feast of Unleavened Bread. In following the events we must remember that for the Jew the next day began at 6 o’clock in the evening. In this case the Feast of Unleavened Bread began on Thursday morning. On the Thursday morning every particle of leaven was destroyed, after a ceremonial search throughout the house.

There was a double reason for that. The Feast commemorated the greatest event in the history of Israel, the deliverance from slavery in Egypt. And when the Israelites had fled from Egypt, they had to flee in such haste that they had not time to bake their bread leavened (Exo.12:34). Dough without leaven (that is, a little piece of fermented dough) cooks very quickly, but produces a substance more like a water biscuit than a loaf; and that is what unleavened bread is like. So the leaven was banished and the bread unleavened to repeat the acts of the night on which they left Egypt and its slavery behind them.

Second, in Jewish thought leaven is the symbol of corruption. As we have said, leaven is fermented dough and the Jews identified fermentation and putrefaction; so leaven stood for all that was rotten and corrupt, and was, therefore, as a sign of purification, cleansed away.

When, then, were the preparations which the disciples would make?

On the Thursday morning, they would prepare the unleavened bread and rid the house of every scrap of leaven. The other staple ingredient of the Feast was the Passover Lamb. It was indeed from the lamb that the Feast took its name. The last terrible plague which fell on the Egyptians and which compelled them to let the people go, was that the Angel of Death walked throughout the land of Egypt and slew the firstborn son in every house. To identify their houses, the Israelites had to kill a lamb and smear the lintel and the side posts of their doors with its blood, so that the avenging angel seeing that sign would pass over that house (Exo.12:21-23). On the Thursday afternoon the lamb had to be taken to the Temple and slain, and its blood–which was the life–had to be offered to God in sacrifice.

There were four other items necessary for the Feast.

(i) A bowl of salt water had to be set upon the table, to remind them of the tears they had shed while they were slaves in Egypt and of the salt waters of the Red Sea through which God’s hand had wondrously brought them.

(ii) A collection of bitter herbs had to be prepared, composed of horse-radish, chicory, endive, lettuce, horehound and the like. This was again to remind them of the bitterness of slavery, and of the bunch of hyssop with which the blood of the lamb had been smeared on the lintel and the door-posts.

(iii) There was a paste called the Charosheth. It was a mixture of apples, dates, pomegranates and nuts. It was to remind them of the clay with which they had been compelled to make bricks in Egypt, and through it there were sticks of cinnamon to remind them of the straw with which the bricks had been made.

(iv) Lastly, there were four cups of wine. These were to remind them of the four promises of Exo.6:6-7: “I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians; I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment; I will take you for my people, and I win be your God.”

Such then were the preparations of the Thursday morning and afternoon. These were the things that the disciples prepared; and at any time after 6 p.m., that is when Friday, the 15th Nisan, had began, the guests might gather at the table.

Back to: THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW (Chapters 11-28)

Back to: Barclay’s Commentary

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