Friday, November 2, 2012

The Seating Arrangement at the Last Supper

I went to my church's Bible study last night.  We're going through A Fragile Stone: Peter: Jesus' Friend, With Michael Card.  Our focus last night was on the last supper.

The way that Michael Card was presenting the seating arrangement at the last supper, John sat at Jesus' right hand, which was the honored seat.  Judas sat on Jesus' left hand, which was the seat of the intimate friend.  And Peter sat in the less prestigious servant's seat, which was far away from Jesus.
 
Card backed up much of what he was saying with Scripture, and this site fills in some of the gaps.  (Well, Card did not present documentation that the right hand was the honored seat, whereas the left hand was the seat of the intimate friend, but he did present evidence that, according to the Gospel of John, John and Judas were sitting next to Jesus at the last supper, and those were most likely honored seats----see Mark 10:37-40).  John (assuming that John is the Beloved Disciple in the Gospel of John) sat close enough to Jesus to be able to lean into Jesus' breast and ask him the identity of the betrayer (John 13:23, 25).  Peter obviously was not sitting close to John, for Peter had to motion for John to ask Jesus who the betrayer was, implying some distance (John 13:24).  And Judas was probably sitting next to Jesus because Judas was close enough to receive the sop that Jesus gave him, plus Judas was privy to the discussion about who the betrayer was, whereas most of the disciples at the table were not.  After all, most of the disciples at the table did not think that Jesus, when he told Judas to do his task quickly, was referring to Judas' betrayal of Jesus, but rather to Judas' responsibilities as the group's treasurer (John 13:26-29; cp. Matthew 26:25).  John and Judas were privy to the discussion about Judas being the betrayer, indicating that they probably sat next to Jesus.  And perhaps Peter was privy to the discussion as well, from his lowly and distant seat, if John motioned to Peter that Judas was the betrayer!

I wish that the lesson got more into why Judas was sitting in an honored spot next to Jesus at the last supper.  Was Jesus trying to discourage Judas from going through with the betrayal?  That doesn't exactly work, for Jesus told Judas to do the betrayal quickly.  Was Jesus being ironic in honoring someone who was not particularly honorable?  

Our workbook was asking us questions about how Peter must have felt to be put in the role of a servant.  Some said that Peter probably felt honored to be given the task of making the arrangements for the last supper (Luke 22:7-16).  And yet, because Peter was likely one of the disciples who was arguing that he was the greatest (Luke 22:24-27), we in the group were speculating that Peter must have felt upset that he had been assigned such a lowly place to sit.  On page 41 of the workbook, we read: "As you think about the possibility of being slighted by a good friend, how can this scene help you to realize that the friend may have had a good reason for his or her action----and that it was not directed at you?"

The thing is, I'm not sure that Peter was particularly upset in the story.  The text does not say that he was upset.  Rather, Peter remains fiercely loyal to Jesus, affirming that he would die for Jesus and would never deny him.  And Peter is especially offended that Jesus was washing the disciples' feet, probably because he firmly believed that the master was above the disciples and should not be serving them.  Peter may have wondered why he got a shoddy seat, and yet his love for Jesus could have overwhelmed any resentment he may have felt.  Or perhaps Peter, notwithstanding his bravado, was someone who was naturally a giver: he was the type who stepped in and did things that needed to be done.  He'd be like my Grandma at Thanksgiving: he can't take a break and eat because he's busy looking out for other people's needs.  Or maybe he wanted to serve Jesus, for, as I said, he had firm beliefs about masters being above their disciples in authority.  In that scenario, he voluntarily sat in the servant's seat.     

3 comments:

  1. Somehow, Jesus seemed to know what to expect--that Judas would turn him over to the authorities. Of course later writers portrayed Judas as a villian who betrayed Jesus, but if they were not privy, how could they know any better? Perhaps Judas earned the honored position next to Jesus, for being the one Jesus trusted to accomplish an important task. Just thinking out loud...

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  2. But, as you note in your book, John practically portrays Judas as the Antichrist, and John was privy! It would be interesting, though, if Jesus simply regarded Judas as playing a role in the divine drama.

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  3. no one sat, they all stood

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