These three chapters of exodus contain what is called the Covenant Code. It’s some of the 613 laws that are set forth in the Old Testament, with most here belonging to the juridical or civil law. For a good explanation of differences between the civil law, the ceremonial law and the moral law, check out this very thorough article by Jimmy Akin https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/the-law-of-god
A very important thing to understand about some of these provisions is that they are not the optimal or perfect expression of a just society. For example, there are provisions for how to treat a slave, but this isn’t an endorsement of slavery. The fact of the matter is that slavery existed in the ancient Near East, and it was brutal, but under the Mosiac Law it was tempered and had restrictions that existed nowhere else.
This is similar to how in the nations around them, an injury could be avenged with a death, and this can lead to a spiral of violence. But in Israel you were limited in what vengeance you could exact from someone. An eye for an eye wasn’t meant to be harsh, it was a limit placed on justice. This wasn’t the ideal for a judicial system, but it was far better than the brutality of the neighboring nations. Then this system gets perfected by Jesus who elevates these laws to be carried out with love for neighbor as the primary objective.
At the end of these chapters we see God again promising to deliver this land to these people. And he insists that they be driven from the land and that their pagan idols and monuments be destroyed, because if the people remain and their religious customs remain it will “become a snare” for the Israelites. And if you know anything about the history of the Israelites you’ll know that this is exactly what happens to them.
We also have to see this analogous to our own lives. We were baptized and can receive the bread from heaven every time we go to mass, so too they were baptized into Moses like Saint Paul said, and they received daily bread from heaven in the mana. When we are living our faith we must destroy any vestiges of idols in our lives. This may be literal idols, but it more often than not things we hold onto that we need to let go of. Things that come between us and God are idols, and they need to be destroyed in our lives if we are to increase in holiness.
This is where the action starts to unfold rapidly. One minute Jesus is teaching on the Mount of Olives, and then before you know it he is being dragged through the streets and crucified. It probably felt like whiplash for the disciples, but just like in the opening verses of this chapter, he has repeatedly warned them that it was coming.
Jesus heads back to Bethany, which is just on the opposite side of the Mount of Olives from Jerusalem, for the night and is anointed with a jar of very expensive oil. In Mathew’s account it just says the disciples objected because they thought it was wasted, but in John’s Gospel it points out Judas specifically as being the one who objected, because he was thinking of how he could’ve sold it and embezzled the money, but now that opportunity was gone.
Jesus replies that the poor will always be around but not him. This shows us a couple things, and one is that the presence of Jesus in our midst is immeasurably valuable, and we should not think of money or goods as wasted if used in service of worshiping him. Think of the beautiful cathedrals built in Europe by people who had no wealth, but scraped together what they did have and built these monuments to their faith in Jesus that has lasted centuries. The second thing is that points forward to his passion and burial and how that was a priceless gift too, but we are on the receiving end of that act of love and charity.
The next scene is Judas agreeing to betray Jesus for the same price we seen in Exodus 21:32 that is to be paid for a damaged or killed slave. This is to contrast the value Judas placed on Jesus with the value placed on him by this unnamed woman who anointed him with oil.
We then move to the last supper narrative and the institution of the Eucharist. Jesus takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and distributes it. This is much like how he did when he fed the 5000 and the 4000. When he said “this is my body” he doesn’t say it represents his body, or symbolizes his body, he says it IS his body. This is very important for us to remember when receiving communion, because unfortunately many Catholics don’t understand or believe that they are receiving the true body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus in the Eucharist.
He then calls the chalice “my blood of the covenant” which will be “poured out” for the forgiveness of sins. The blood of the covenant will be in tomorrow’s readings from exodus, but it was the blood of the sacrifice which sealed the people to the old covenant. Just like the blood of the new covenant seals us in this bond and relationship with Jesus under the new covenant. And to say it is “poured out” envisions the way the priests in the Old Testament would pour out the blood of the sacrifices on the altar. This is Jesus telling us he is both the priest in this sacrifice, and he is also the sacrifice itself.
I highly recommend reading the chapter of the catechism regarding the Eucharist because there’s too many great things for me to quote them all. Here’s a link to the online version http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p2s2c1a3.htm
They leave the upper room and head down to the garden of gethsemane at the base of the Mount of Olives. Here Jesus takes his three closest apostles to a more private spot and prays that he would not have to endure what he knew was coming, but submits himself to the will of the father. We have to remember that although Jesus is fully God, he is also fully man. In his human nature he has a natural aversion to suffering and death, and he could’ve easily overrode this with his divine nature, but he chose to fully embrace this part of himself and feel the fear and apprehension that a person facing suffering and death would feel.
When he prays that the cup pass him, he is talking about his passion but also specifically about one of the cups drank during a Passover meal. Scott Hahn did a wonderful talk on this, and turned that talk into an even more detailed book that I highly recommend. The Fourth Cup on YouTube
Judas arrives and betrays our Lord, and even to the end Jesus refers to him as “friend”. He has spent three years with Jesus, he witnessed countless miracles, he heard him preach and teach, he had his feet washed by Jesus at the last supper, and he even ate the body of our Lord at the last supper. And yet he sold him for the price you would pay for a single slave. If that sounds stupid, stop and ask yourself how much we get paid when we betray our Lord by sinning. I don’t know about you, but I do it for free.
Lord Jesus, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Jesus is taken to Ciaphas and the Sanhedrin seeks false testimony to convict Jesus. This is a blatant show of hypocrisy because the penalty for perjury is death, and yet they seek perjured testimony to put him to death. This shows that despite their outward shows of piety, their hearts were hardened and far from God. Just like Jesus accused them of doing back in chapter 15 of Matthew, “You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “This people honors me with their lips,but their heart is far from me;“ (Matthew 15:7-8)
Ciaphas then questions Jesus, but he remains silent. Only when the high priest demands an answer with an oath does Jesus speak, and he accepts that he is the messiah and claims an Old Testament prophecy for himself as the Son of Man coming in the clouds.
They are outraged at this, and the high priest tears his clothes in a dramatic display. They pronounce a death sentence on the only man in history that was innocent of all crimes and sins. He is mocked, beaten and spat upon. The final insult in this chapter is Peter’s triple denial of Jesus. Both Judas and Peter betray Jesus, but only one receives redemption.
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