Most of us are familiar with Jesus’ words at the Last Supper—or at least with some of those words. When we celebrate communion together, we regularly hear “this is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me” and “this cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” Recently, however, I read through Luke 22, which includes the Last Supper and the events surrounding it. In addition to these familiar words from the Last Supper, I was struck by some of the other words spoken by Jesus on this momentous occasion.
After Jesus and the disciples settled together around the Passover table, the first words Jesus spoke were these: “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15). As he faces a time of unimaginably intense suffering in his life, Jesus has a deep and powerful longing to be with his disciples. Though Jesus clearly needed to be with his Father as he approached the suffering that was to come (vv. 41-44), he also seems to have felt a need to be with his disciples—his closest earthly, human friends. Jesus’ profound yearning to be with his disciples at this darkest, most difficult place in his life is quite remarkable.
This desire is even more remarkable when considering the major imperfections of the disciples, which are on display for all to see in the events following the Last Supper in Luke 22. Their immediate reaction to Jesus’ disclosure of his imminent suffering is not sympathy, but a discussion of which one of them is going to betray Jesus (v. 23). This is immediately followed by a dispute that arose among them as to which of them should be considered to be the greatest (vv. 24-30). He later asks them to pray that they might not enter into temptation while he is alone in prayer with the Father. Instead, they fall asleep (vv. 39-46). Judas betrays him (vv. 47-48) and Peter denies him (vv. 54-62). Their actions do not reveal the disciples as being intent on encouraging and strengthening a friend in a time of great need. Yet in spite of the disciples’ human frailties and failures, of which Jesus was well aware, he still earnestly desired to be with them at this horrendously grueling point in his life.
There are two truths in particular from this narrative in Luke 22 that I find most striking and extraordinary. First, Jesus loved his disciples as they were and strongly desired to be with them. It is obvious that the disciples needed Jesus in profound ways. Yet, on some level, Jesus “needed” the disciples—or at least he wanted them with him in this place of deep struggle and pain. And he didn’t want to be with them because of the depth of their maturity; rather, he longed to be with them with all their flaws and defects because he knew that they (except maybe Judas) loved him to the degree that they were capable of doing so. I find it immensely comforting and quite astounding to know that Jesus actually wants to be with me with all my imperfections and weaknesses—because I have a lot of them.
Second, though the disciples were with Jesus in this place of deep anguish, they didn’t really hear what he had to say. They were more focused on themselves and what they perceived as their needs. They seemed to be more worried about which of them would betray Jesus rather than the fact that Jesus was going to be betrayed. During their last hours with the greatest human being who ever lived, they were arguing about which of them was the greatest. When Jesus asked them to pray while he was alone with the Father, they fell asleep. With momentous events of eternal consequence taking place around them and in the presence of the one at the center of these events, the disciples seem to be missing the significance of Jesus’ words and the privilege of Jesus’ presence.
It saddens me to realize that often I am welcomed into the presence of Jesus, who earnestly desires to be with me, and all I can do is think about and talk about me. I miss what he is saying and doing, which is of much greater, deeper, and lasting significance than what I am saying and doing. Jesus gave his body for me and poured out his blood for me; he willingly sacrificed all for me. Shouldn’t that motivate me to recognize the eternal, incalculable value of reveling in the privilege of enjoying his presence and closely watching for what he is saying and doing while I am with him?