March 10, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 22:19 (NRSV)
Then [Jesus] took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
When celebrating the Passover meal with his disciples, Jesus reinterpreted its symbols, making them about his own giving of himself for others. This boldness – or as a speaker of Yiddish would say, chutzpah – might have seemed to some who heard it to be way over the line of acceptability. But Jesus was letting his followers know that his death would be for them and their salvation. His astounding boldness was an expression of his astounding humility, his willingness to give his own life for others.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
Growing up in a community populated mainly with Protestants, plus a sprinkling of Catholics, I didn’t hear the word “chutzpah.” I’m pretty sure my only Jewish friend, David, never used it. But my exposure to that word changed when I got to college and had many Jewish friends and roommates. They would at times observe that somebody had chutzpah. Usually, they did not mean this as a compliment. Rather, chutzpah was over-the-line audacity. It was thinking way too much of yourself and letting others know about it. Though the original Yiddish term chutzpah had strongly negative connotations, once in a while it could be used positively for someone who was exceptionally bold, though remaining just within the lines of propriety.
I would suggest that Jesus showed what looked like chutzpah in the Passover meal we know as The Last Supper. Those of us who have grown up in church might easily miss this because what Jesus said is so familiar to us as “the words of institution” uttered during Communion. I must have heard at least 500 times in my life some version of “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” As a pastor, I’ve said this a couple hundred times as well.
But it was brand new to the disciples of Jesus who had gathered with him for a final meal. This meal, a Passover meal, was filled with traditional actions and meanings. It was, above all, a time to remember how God had saved his people from slavery in Egypt. Yet, while serving as host for this meal, Jesus inserted himself in a most daring and unprecedented way.
To understand how that might have felt to the disciples, imagine yourself in church one day. When it’s time for Communion, your pastor or priest stands up, breaks the bread, and says “This bread is really all about me today. In the future, when you celebrate Communion, remember me most of all.” That would be utter egotism, right? Blasphemy, really. It would be chutzpah of the worst kind.
There’s only one possible justification for such language. If God is in fact doing a new thing, if God is going to save in a whole new way, and if God is saving through the person who is speaking, then it’s more than okay for that speaker to make himself or herself the meaning of the meal. It’s also helpful. And it’s wonderful.
By radically redefining the meaning of the bread, and then the cup, Jesus was creating a new way to signify God’s new act of salvation. God was about to do something even more astounding than the exodus from Egypt. Through the broken body of Jesus, which would be given for his dinner companions – and for you and me – God was saving all of humanity from slavery to sin and death. This wondrous act of salvation would be remembered every time followers of Jesus share together in the bread, broken and given for them.
So, yes, what Jesus said was amazingly bold. It was chutzpah of the very best kind. What Jesus communicated was anything but arrogant. He was offering himself for others, his life for our lives. He would soon fully assume the role of the Suffering Servant of God in Isaiah, the one whose suffering and death bring life and freedom for others. Jesus’s chutzpah was borne, not out of an overblown sense of himself, but rather out of utter humility and sacrificial servanthood. That is surely something worth remembering . . . often.
In the season of Lent, we prepare for a deeper, truer experience of the saving work of God through Christ. May you take time to remember the wonder of Christ’s body, given for you.
Can you use your imagination to consider what it might have been like for the disciples to hear what Jesus said at the Last Supper? What would you have thought? What would you have felt?
Do you live as if Jesus gave his body for you? Or do you try to earn his favor through good works and good intentions?
In addition to participating in Communion, what helps you to remember the sacrifice of Jesus for you?
Set aside some time to reflect on this scene from Luke. See if you can get inside the sandals of the disciples, feeling their wonder and confusion. Talk with the Lord about all you are thinking and feeling as you do this.
Lord Jesus, I don’t know if first-century speakers of Aramaic used the word “chutzpah,” but if they did, I expect many attributed this to you. Some believed that you went way over the line of decency in your claims about yourself. They saw your audacity as inappropriate, even blasphemous. But others knew you were claiming big things for yourself and they marveled as they followed you.
Today, Lord, I want to be stunned by what you did at the Last Supper. I want to hear your words with amazement. Even more, I want to be amazed once again by the wonder of your sacrifice. You did indeed give your body, not just for the first disciples, but for all disciples . . . including me. May your gracious sacrifice stretch my soul with joyful, awe-filled gratitude. Amen.
P.S. from Mark
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Don’t Worry, Be Thankful: Eucharisteo with Ann Voskamp
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.