The Last Supper
This Bread, This Body
This is an excerpt from
our book “In The Beginning”
The full text is available in Mobile format
at Amazon’s Kindle
For those unfamiliar with the Last Supper (reported at Matthew 26, Luke 22, & John 13, among others), this is the Passover meal that Jesus shared with his disciples at which he announced to the assembled twelve that one of them would betray him, immediately after which words – and this is the most confusing, not to say disturbing, element in the account – he turned to that one, who was Judas, and very nearly pushed him out the door, virtually commanding him to get on with it. “What you are going to do,” Jesus is quoted as saying to Judas, “do quickly.”
No matter how often I read those verses, nor in which translation or version, that short, painfully tense and indescribably intimate moment between Jesus and Judas – (the other eleven seem to have remained blissfully ignorant of the drama unfolding before their eyes) – never fails to fill me, first, with awe, then with doubts, incessantly nagging doubts. Awe because this clearly is an event of cosmic, even archetypal proportions, and doubts because it just does not parse, at least not as it was ever explained to me.
Consider it this way. Suppose, as an admittedly absurd parallel, that in your own school district, the most sensitive, dedicated, compassionate, perceptive, loving, insightful, and forgiving teacher were personally to select a particularly gifted student, enroll him or her in the teacher’s own advanced tutorial class, and then permit, even encourage, the student to cheat on the final examination, all the while fully aware that it was wrong to cheat, and that the authorities would apprehend and punish the student. Imagine further that when reports of this incident are published, rather than demanding the teacher’s license and scalp, the school board, the student body, and the citizenry at large join as one in defending and praising the teacher’s action, and condemning the student, not only until the end of the current semester, but for all time! Inconceivable, isn’t it? And yet, there it is, plain as day, in the Gospels.
Unless we have misunderstood the story. But if the Last Supper is not an account of a teacher who suspects his student is about to get himself into trouble, and then encourages him to do so, what is it about?
Fortunately, the passage itself contains clues to an alternative interpretation. When Jesus announces to the twelve that one of them is about to betray him, the Bible tells us that they look about the room uncertainly, wondering what their Teacher means. Most are apparently afraid to press Jesus on the subject, so they convince one of their number to ask him to reveal the identity of the betrayer. Jesus replies, “It is he to whom I shall give this morsel when I have dipped it.” Then, Jesus dips the morsel, hands it to Judas, and, in that timeless remark, he tells Judas to get on with what he has to do, which Judas promptly does. “What you are going to do, do quickly.”
Clear enough, right? Well, apparently not to the other eleven, because, having witnessed this unmistakable fingering of Judas as the culprit, they continue mumbling among themselves that they do not understand what Jesus meant, or where Judas might have gone, or generally what was taking place in their presence. Fortunately, we can do better, for we have the benefit of hindsight and the leisure to consider carefully the biblical accounts, thereby putting us in position to discover the meaning intended by the Teacher in that fateful discourse.
First, we observe that at least two biblical translations (the Scholars' Version and the Inclusive Version, at John 13:26) use the more specific word bread, or piece of bread, in place of the rather generic morsel found in other versions. Also, we note that, at another point during the dinner table exchange, Jesus made what was to become one of his most revered and perhaps most debated announcements, to wit, with a piece of bread in his hand, “This is my body” [see Note 1]. Now, if we will consider the two remarks together, the one about the morsel, the other about the bread (and surely Jesus was wise enough to anticipate, even possibly intend, that eventually we would do so), we might reasonably conclude that what the Teacher wanted those of us with, as he himself might have put it, “ears to hear,” to understand was that, in this incident, he was giving to Judas his (Jesus’) body.
Thus, in this context, we might hear Jesus to be saying, “This bread is my body, and I give it to my trusted disciple, Judas” - (Please recall here that it had been Judas who was the group’s treasurer, an appointment of great trust, and presumably not one lightly made) – “and I instruct him thusly: Go, and do with it what you must do, and do it quickly!”
And what is it that Jesus has Judas do: Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s!
Jesus knows that his separative, this-world identity as “Jesus, the son of the Nazarene carpenter” must die if he is to arise as and reclaim his Identity in Truth, his Identity as Christ, the Self at One with the Father. And so he surrenders that bodily identity to Caesar, whom we can understand here to represent earthly authority, in exchange for his True Identity from and in God.
And lest there should linger any doubt in our minds that this is Jesus’ real meaning, he proclaims, as soon as Judas leaves to do the deed, “Now is the Son glorified!” Not ten pages ago, not ten pages ahead, but now. This event, this exchange between Jesus and Judas, between the Teacher and his disciple, this release of the egoic body/mind personality to the egoic authority, is the event, the glorifying event. If you have not been paying attention before, Jesus seems to be exhorting us here, please pay attention now, for if you can understand this lesson, you will have understood the entirety of my Teaching. And conversely, if we misunderstand this, we misunderstand it all.
Thus, these powerful verses are not about who was the Teacher’s favorite and who was the fink. Rather, here, in these few lines, Jesus presents to us the very heart, the crux, of his teachings. And we nearly miss it altogether. Why? Clearly because, to a great degree, the event has been reported to us by men who, bless their well-intentioned hearts, did not fully understand what they were witnessing, and so they told the story in the only terms they did understand. What the eleven saw, or thought they saw, was their beloved leader handed over to die, and so that is the way they reported it. But the death they witnessed was a this-world death; being still immersed in their this-world identity, and therefore observing their “lives” with this-world eyes, what else could they see! And this despite the Teacher’s lesson in the Lazarus affair [see Note 2] that physical, bodily death was both meaningless and irrelevant, and most assuredly not the spiritual or metaphysical death leading to Awakening that was and is the fundamental basis of his Teaching. But, again, having failed to grasp that distinction here just as they did at the Lazarus event, those who tell us the story through the Gospels could not help but fail to report it otherwise. Happily, (if we are anywhere near right in our interpretation) Jesus anticipated this confusion, and accordingly spoke with words that would for all time carry within them clues to his intended meaning.
In sum, just as The Fall in the Garden of Eden was no fall, neither was the betrayal at the Last Supper a betrayal. Judas did what Jesus wanted him to do, what the “Judas” within every seeker must eventually do for each of us. He freed Jesus to be Christ. Judas released Jesus, or facilitated Jesus’s own release of his this-world, separative identity, while the other eleven pleaded with him in effect to limit himself (and by extension, to limit themselves, for we are what we perceive) to the confines of the body, to the “I am me, and you aren’t” separative perspective that binds us all to the mortal phenomenon.
Finally, let us apply this interpretation of the Last Supper events to the Teacher’s words at John 19:26-27. Here, at the crucifixion, a voice from the cross speaks to Mary, and says in effect: “You stand there in tears, convinced you are witnessing my death. I am not who you think I am. I am not your son, and you are not my mother. The one you mourn is gone, returned to Identity in and with the One, Which I Am. If you wish a son, then choose the separative, this-world personality standing beside you. You may be his mother, if you like, but not Mine. And he may be your son, but not I. I am neither father nor son, mother nor daughter, for where I Am, there is only the One, and I Am That.” Hearing that speech, and believing it to have been delivered by the man Jesus, we assume we are witnessing a good son providing for his mother’s old age. But perhaps the speaker was not Jesus but Christ, speaking not only to the woman Mary, but to all of us who think we are fathers and mothers, sons or daughters, husbands or wives. “Choose now, dear friends, while you hear My Voice, which it is you wish to be, yourself or the Self, for whichever you choose, there will you live.”
Note 1: The following paragraph about the sacrament of communion is excerpted from our response to a letter from a TZF visitor: – “As regards the sacrament of communion specifically, for us that biblical event (see Matthew 26.26) is about a Teacher explaining that His Identity (and ultimately ours, as well) is the One, and that what you and we perceive as the manifested universe (our lives) is in Reality nothing more or less than That, the Very One Itself. So, he says to us, ‘this bread is my body’ and ‘this wine is my blood’. In other words, ‘I AM the world’, and we can partake in a conscious relationship with Him, with the Infinite One, whenever we wish to do so, simply by addressing our lives, the world, and its things in that manner. Thus, when we eat bread, the Teacher says to us, recognize that it is the One, the Very Self. Likewise, when we drink wine. But, at TZF, we do not think Jesus or any other Teacher meant for us to stop there. Rather, we believe, and our experience confirms, that they would have us do the same when we eat cabbage, split firewood, honk a car horn, type on a computer keyboard, answer the telephone, pat a pet, curse a thief, smell a rose. I AM THAT means I am that, with no exceptions, in every direction. So, we consider our lives to be a Sacrament, and every activity, inner or outer, imagined or real, past, present, or future, good or bad, happy or unhappy, tall or short, fat or skinny, to be Sacred Communion. For us, This Is My Body, This Is My Blood is one of the most powerful spiritual Teachings ever uttered.” [Return to text]
Note 2: Elsewhere in this same book, I suggest that, contrary to popular interpretation, the Lazarus event (see John 11) is almost certainly not about physical death, but about Awakening to our True Identity as and in the One. Several clues in that account suggest this other interpretation, not the least of which is a remark by the disciple Thomas, who, on learning that Jesus will travel to attend to the “dead” Lazarus, observes, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” An unlikely wish if the death in question were bodily. [Return to text]
While on the subject of Jesus and Judas, please consider the lines quoted below from the book “The Lost Gospel“ by Herbert Krosney about the “Gospel of Judas,” which, after sitting 1700 years in an Egyptian cave, was discovered and translated and then published (in 2006, by the National Geographic Society).
I read Krosney’s book in 2017, and was astonished. While my premise concerning the relationship between Jesus and Judas made sense to me in 1989 when I wrote “In The Beginning” (and still does), I had never come across anything remotely like it anywhere else, and did not expect to.
Of course, scholars know with virtual certainty that this gospel, like others, was not authored by the name attached to it, in this case Judas, and is not a factual record of the events reported, but is instead a consideration reflecting the views and beliefs of a particular sect, in this case gnosticism. Nonetheless, for a spiritual seeker, it is a source of teaching, guidance, and inspiration.
Here, I should stipulate that at least one scholar argues, and maybe so do others, that the National Geographic Society’s translation of this gospel has serious, even substantive, errors.
Be that as it may, for me there remains the fundamental issue, composed of: (1) The literature of many if not all traditions includes stories of Self-Realizers, Teachers, Masters, whose disciples or devotees report that their Teacher or Guru sees through them like clear glass, always knows what they are thinking. (“Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did,” John 4.) Thus, I do not doubt that Jesus knew what was in Judas’s mind and heart. And (2) my reading of the literature of, again, various traditions, convinces me that it is extremely unlikely, if not impossible, for a Self-Realized Teacher or True Guru to err, do evil, or to wrong another (even though, or perhaps because, to a Self-Realized Teacher, there is no such thing as an “other.”) (Thus, “If a man is Self-realised he cannot tell a lie or commit a sin or do anything wrong,” Sri Ramana Maharshi.) So, when Jesus gave Judas the “Do it!” command, he knew what he was doing, and he knew that, from the Cosmic perspective he had, that he is, it was a good thing, because he could do no other. Finally, (3) it is in the Nature of the Teacher/disciple relationship that when a Teacher or a Guru gives a command (like, “What you are going to do, do quickly”) to his or her disciple, the devotee will do it. To me, it is not conceivable that Jesus did not know that, and did not understand its implications.
In sum, I do not see how to avoid the conclusion that the responsibility for, the onus of, the action Judas took is as much on Jesus as Judas. It was, in a word, a Teacher and a devotee acting in full, consenting, perfect, even Divine, Unison and Union. And it falls upon us as seekers to accept that, and deal with it … maturely, responsibly, and enthusiastically.
Anyway, here is the line in question:
Jesus said to Judas: “You will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.”
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“In The Beginning”
was first published in hard copy in 1989
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