I’m exploring the world of the New Testament with Ben Witherington III, and his book ‘New Testament History.’ It’s a fantastic book, a tad slow in the beginning but once he gets to the birth/passion narratives, it’s just great. I highly recommend it as both an intro text and an intermediate study text.
I was reading some N.T. Wright essays before I went to the library and got the book, and the two authors lead me to really think about Jesus’s self-understanding. Wright obviously done a lot of work in this area, but Witherington made just a few comments in his book that sparked my interest.
‘If indeed this story accurately represents Jesus understanding [of the last supper] (whatever the particulars about the authenticity of the words of institution), what astounding faith and trust he must have had to have believed that his death would accomplish such a thin, and then to be so supremely confident that he could symbolically distribute the benefits of that death in advance of it happening! This high moment must be compared to his moment of struggle in the Garden of Gethsemene.’ (‘New Testament History’, p, 146)
I’ve never thought of the last supper from that angle, though it certainly is an angle that I think makes a lot of sense. There’s some definite similarity with Wright’s approach to Jesus’ self-understanding – a very flesh-and-blood, living, breathing human understanding. It takes the actual humanity of Jesus very seriously.