PREPARING FOR THE FEAST
On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when they were sacrificing the Passover Lamb, Jesus’ disciples said to him, “Where do you wish us to go and make the necessary preparations for you to eat the Passover?” He despatched two of his disciples, and said to them. “Go into the city, and there will meet you a man carrying an earthen pitcher of water. Follow him, and wherever he enters in, say to the householder, `The teacher says, “Where is my room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”‘ He will show you a large upper room, furnished and prepared. There get things ready for us.” So the disciples went away, and they came into the city, and found everything just as he had told them. And they got everything ready for the Passover Feast.
It may seem an unusual word to use in connection with Jesus, but, as we read the narrative of the last week of his life, we cannot help being struck with his efficiency of arrangement. Again and again we see that he did not leave things until the last moment. Long before, he had arranged that the colt should be ready for his ride into Jerusalem; and here again we see that all his arrangements had been made long beforehand.
His disciples wished to know where they would eat the Passover. Jesus sent them into Jerusalem with instructions to look for a man carrying an earthen pitcher of water. That was a prearranged signal. To carry a water-pot was a woman’s duty. It was a thing that no man ever did. A man with a water-pot on his shoulder would stand out in any crowd as much as, say, a man on a wet day with a lady’s umbrella. Jesus did not leave things until the last minute. Long ago he had arranged a last meeting-place for himself and for his disciples, and had arranged just how it was to be found.
The larger Jewish houses had upper rooms. Such houses looked exactly like a smaller box placed on top of a bigger box. The smaller box was the upper room, and it was approached by an outside stair, making it unnecessary to go through the main room. The upper room had many uses. It was a storeroom, it was a place for quiet and meditation, it was a guest-room for visitors. But in particular it was the place where a Rabbi taught his chosen band of intimate disciples. Jesus was following the custom that any Jewish Rabbi might follow.
We must remember the Jewish way of reckoning days. The new day began at 6 p.m. in the evening. Up until 6 p.m. it was 13th Nisan, the day of the preparation for the Passover. But 14th Nisan, the Passover day itself, began at 6 p.m. To put it in English terms, Friday the 14th began at 6 p.m. on Thursday the 13th.
What were the preparations that a Jew made for The Passover?
First was the ceremonial search for leaven. Before the Passover every particle, of leaven must be banished from the house. That was because the first Passover in Egypt (Exo.12) had been eaten with unleavened bread. (Unleavened bread is not like bread at all. It is like a water-biscuit.) It had been used in Egypt because it can be baked much more quickly than a loaf baked with leaven, and the first Passover, the Passover of escape from Egypt, had been eaten in haste, with everyone ready for the road. In addition leaven was the symbol of corruption. Leaven is fermented dough, and the Jew identified fermentation with putrefaction, and so leaven stood for rottenness. The day before the Passover the master of the house took a lighted candle and ceremonially searched the house for leaven. Before the search he prayed,
“Blessed art thou, Jehovah, our God, King of the Universe, who hast sanctified us by thy commandments, and commanded us to remove the leaven.”
At the end of the search the householder said,
“All the leaven that is in my possession, that which I have seen and that which I have not seen, be it null, be it accounted as the dust of the earth.”
Next, on the afternoon before the Passover evening, came the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb. All the people came to the Temple. The worshipper must slay his own lamb, thereby, as it were, making his own sacrifice. But in Jewish eyes all blood was sacred to God, because the Jew equated the blood and the life. It was quite natural to do so because, if a person or an animal is wounded, as the blood flows away, so does life. So in the Temple the worshipper slew his own lamb. Between the worshippers and the altar were two long lines of priests, each with a gold or silver bowl. As the lamb’s throat was slit the blood was caught in one of these bowls, and passed up the line, until the priest at the end of the line dashed it upon the altar. The carcase was then flayed, the entrails and the fat extracted, because they were part of the necessary sacrifice, and the carcass handed back to the worshipper. If the figures of Josephus are anywhere nearly correct, and there were more than a quarter of a million lambs slain, the scene in the Temple courts and the blood-stained condition of the altar can hardly be imagined. The lamb was carried home to be roasted. It must not be boiled. Nothing must touch it, not even the sides of a pot. It had to be roasted over an open fire on a spit made of pomegranate wood. The spit went right through the lamb from mouth to vent, and the lamb had to be roasted entire with head and legs and tail still attached to the body.
The table itself was shaped like a square with one side open. It was low and the guests reclined on couches, resting on their left arms with their right arms free for eating.
Certain things were necessary and these were the things the disciples would have to get ready.
(i) There was the lamb, to remind them of how their houses had been protected by the badge of blood when the angel of death passed through Egypt.
(ii) There was the unleavened bread to remind them of the bread they had eaten in haste when they escaped from slavery.
(iii) There was a bowl of salt water, to remind them of the tears they had shed in Egypt and of the waters of the Red Sea through which they had miraculously passed to safety.
(iv) There was a collection of bitter herbs–horse radish, chicory, endive, lettuce, horehound–to remind them of the bitterness of slavery in Egypt.
(v) There was a paste called Charosheth, a mixture of apples, dates, pomegranates and nuts, to remind them of the clay of which they had made bricks in Egypt. Through it there were sticks of cinnamon to remind them of the straw with which the bricks had been made.
(vi) There were four cups of wine. The cups contained a little more than half a pint of wine, but three parts of wine were mixed with two of water. The four cups, which were drunk at different stages of the meal, were to remind them of the four promises in Exo.6:6-7,
“I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will rid you of their bondage. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm. I will take you to me for a people, and I will be your God.”
Such were the preparations which had to be made for the Passover. Every detail spoke of that great day of deliverance when God liberated his people from their bondage in Egypt. It was at that feast that he who liberated the world from sin was to sit at his last meal with his disciples.
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