Matthew 26–28: Jesus' Life-Giving Death offers a close look at the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in Matthew's Gospel.
A Guided Discovery of the Bible
The Bible invites us to explore God’s word and reflect on how we might respond to it. To do this, we need guidance and the right tools for discovery. The Six Weeks with the Bible series of Bible discussion guides offers both in a concise six-week format. Whether focusing on a specific biblical book or exploring a theme that runs throughout the Bible, these practical guides in this series provide meaningful insights that explain Scripture while helping readers make connections to their own lives. Each guide
• is faithful to Church teaching and is guided by sound biblical scholarship
• presents the insights of Church fathers and saints
• includes questions for discussion and reflection
• delivers information in a reader-friendly format
• gives suggestions for prayer that help readers respond to God’s word
• appeals to beginners as well as to advanced students of the Bible
By reading Scripture, reflecting on its deeper meanings, and incorporating it into our daily life, we can grow not only in our understanding of God’s word, but also in our relationship with God.
About the Author
Amy Welborn is the general editor of Loyola Classics, a series of new editions of the some of the most distinguished Catholic novels of the twentieth century. She is the author of The Words We Pray, A Catholic Woman's Book of Days, Loyola Kids Book of Heroes, Loyola Kids Book of Saints (Loyla Press), De-Coding Da Vinci, and the Prove It! series of apologetics books for youth (Our Sunday Visitor). Amy and her family live in Birmingham, Alabama.
Read an Excerpt
How to Use This Guide
You might compare the Bible to a national park. The park is so large that you could spend months, even years, getting to know it. But a brief visit, if carefully planned, can be enjoyable and worthwhile. In a few hours you can drive through the park and pull over at a handful of sites. At each stop you can get out of the car, take a short trail through the woods, listen to the wind blowing in the trees, get a feel for the place.
In this booklet we will drive through a small portion of the Bible, reading six excerpts from the account of the death and resurrection of Jesus presented in the Gospel according to Matthew. Because we will be reading only three chapters from Matthew’s Gospel, we will be able to take a leisurely walk through them, thinking carefully about what we are reading and what it means for our lives today. While the section of Matthew we will be looking at is short, it gives us a great deal to reflect on, for in these three chapters Matthew narrates the climactic events in Jesus’ life.
This guide provides everything you need to explore the readings from Matthew in six discussions—or to do a six-part exploration on your own. The introduction on page 6 will prepare you to get the most out of your reading. The weekly sections provide explanations that highlight what the Gospel means for us today. Equally important, each section supplies questions that will launch you into fruitful discussion, helping you both to investigate the Gospel for yourself and to learn from one another. If you are using the booklet by yourself, the questions will spur your personal reflection.
Each discussion is meant to be a guided discovery.
Guided. None of us is equipped to read the Bible without help. We read the Bible for ourselves but not by ourselves. Scripture was written to be understood and applied in the community of faith. So each week “A Guide to the Reading,” drawing on the work of both modern biblical scholars and Christian writers of the past, supplies background and explanations. The guide will help you grasp Matthew’s message. Think of it as a friendly park ranger who points out noteworthy details and explains what you’re looking at so you can appreciate things for yourself.
Discovery. The purpose is for you to interact with Matthew’s account of Jesus’ death and resurrection. “Questions for Careful Reading” is a tool to help you dig into the text and examine it carefully. “Questions for Application” will help you consider what these words mean for your life here and now. Each week concludes with an “Approach to Prayer” section that helps you respond to God’s word. Supplementary “Living Tradition” and “Saints in the Making” sections offer the thoughts and experiences of Christians past and present. By showing what the Gospel has meant to others, these sections will help you consider what it means for you.
How long are the discussion sessions? We’ve assumed you will have about an hour and a half when you get together. If you have less time, you’ll find that most of the elements can be shortened somewhat.
Is homework necessary? You will get the most out of your discussions if you read the weekly material and prepare your answers to the questions in advance of each meeting. If participants are not able to prepare, have someone read the “Guide to the Reading” sections aloud at the points where they appear.
What about leadership? If you happen to have a world-class biblical scholar in your group, by all means ask him or her to lead the discussions. In the absence of any professional Scripture scholars, or even accomplished amateur biblical scholars, you can still have a first-class Bible discussion. Choose two or three people to take turns as facilitators, and have everyone read “Suggestions for Bible Discussion Groups” (page 76) before beginning.
Does everyone need a guide? a Bible? Everyone in the group will need their own copy of this booklet. It contains the text of the portions of the Gospel that are discussed, so a Bible is not absolutely necessary—but each participant will find it useful to have one. You should have at least one Bible on hand for your discussions. (See page 80 for recommendations.)
How do we get started? Before you begin, take a look at the suggestions for Bible discussion groups (page 76) or individuals (page 79).
The Mystery of Jesus’ Suffering
Few stories are more familiar to us as Christians than the Gospel accounts of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. All four Gospels tell essentially the same tale. After an inspiring and tumultuous public ministry, Jesus and his disciples went to Jerusalem at the time of the Passover feast. After celebrating a special last meal with his closest followers, Jesus was arrested in an olive grove just outside the city walls. His fearful disciples deserted him. After interrogating Jesus, the religious and civil authorities collaborated to do away with him. He was flogged, then executed by crucifixion, and buried. Some days later (on the third day, by ancient reckoning) his followers saw him again—alive.
From these events the Christian faith was born. From earliest times, Christians have believed that through the suffering and death of Jesus, God has brought the greatest good that humanity could hope for: victory over sin and death. Yet for all its familiarity, the story of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus is also a great mystery. These events shocked Jesus’ followers at the time, and by all indications, they continued to puzzle and confuse the members of the infant Christian Church that was born in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The four Gospels were written to explain the significance of Jesus to these early Christians, especially to answer questions about Jesus’ last days. Why did he die? What did it mean that he rose from the dead? How do these facts change the way we live now and how we view the future?
These are questions we ask ourselves today. We may be the heirs to two thousand years of theological reflection on the meaning of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection, but we hardly know everything there is to know about them. They are historical facts, but their meaning is infinitely rich and inexhaustible. The Gospel accounts of the Passion (a traditional word for Jesus’ suffering and death) were written for people very different from us in culture, language, and religious background. But we need to understand the meaning of Jesus’ passion and resurrection just as they did. These accounts are written for us, too.
In this book, we will examine the portrayal of the passion and resurrection of Jesus in chapters 26–28 of Matthew’s Gospel. We will take special pains to explore the meaning of these texts in our lives today. Matthew describes the central work of Jesus in coming to live among us. His account, as much as any text in Scripture, has the potential to change the way we live our lives.
Matthew and his audience. An ancient tradition links the Gospel we will be reading with Matthew, one of Jesus’ twelve apostles (Matthew 9:9—Scripture citations in this book refer to the Gospel of Matthew except where noted). But most scholars today think that Matthew’s Gospel is the work of a later author who drew on oral and written traditions coming from Jesus’ first followers. Most scholars think that Matthew, whoever he was, probably completed his Gospel between the years AD 70 and 90.
Matthew seems to have written his Gospel for a mostly Jewish Christian community. We can deduce this from the attention he devotes to showing how Jesus fulfilled prophecies in the Scriptures of the Jewish people (the writings that Christians call the Old Testament).
At the same time, Matthew’s readers seem to have been seeking to evangelize gentiles. An indication of this is Matthew’s emphasis on gentiles who recognize Jesus’ identity. At the cross, a Roman military officer, a centurion, is among those who first acknowledge Jesus to be the Son of God. Another gentile—Herod’s wife—receives special insight into Jesus through a dream. At the very end of the Gospel, Jesus specifically directs his disciples to bring the good news of God’s kingdom not just to the people of Israel but to the entire world.
Matthew’s Gospel was written to explain Jesus to these audiences. Like the other three Gospels, it is not a history in the modern sense. It is rooted in history, in the testimony of eyewitnesses, but it is not intended to simply recount these events. Rather, Matthew wrote in such a way as to reveal the meaning of the events. He wrote to help us perceive who Jesus truly is and what he has done for us—and to help us respond to him.
The setting. The events in Matthew’s Passion narrative take place in and around Jerusalem. At the time the city may have had some 50,000 to 100,000 inhabitants. Jesus arrives in Jerusalem via Bethany, a town about two miles east of Jerusalem. The following events take place at sites that are within a mere square mile or so.
The events of Jesus’ passion took place around the year AD 30 against the backdrop of the Jewish Feast of Passover. The Gospel writers saw it as no accident that Jesus celebrated his final meal and met his death in the midst of this celebration of God’s liberation of the Israelites.
The roots of the Feast of Passover—or as it was known in the time of Jesus, the Feast of Unleavened Bread (26:17)—are found in the Old Testament book of Exodus (see especially chapter 12). The feast celebrates the Israelites’ release from Egyptian bondage by the miraculous power of God. God called Moses to lead the Israelites to freedom, which was accomplished after a series of plagues convinced Egypt’s king to let the Israelites go. The final plague, the death of the firstborn sons of Egypt, took place on the night before the Israelites were allowed to leave Egypt. On that night, the Israelites put the blood of a lamb on the lintels and doorposts of their homes so that the angel of death would pass over their homes, leaving their own firstborn alive. Meanwhile they ate a supper that featured unleavened bread, which, not needing time to rise, was suited for their hasty preparations to depart.
In the centuries that followed, the Jewish people remembered that night by celebrating the Passover festival. At the Passover meal, on the first night of the seven-day festival, they retold the story of their redemption by God’s mighty hand and reaffirmed their participation in that redemption. On the afternoon before the feast began, a lamb or goat was taken to be slaughtered at the temple. That evening, as the celebration began, groups of families and friends gathered to eat meat, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs, and to drink a series of cups of wine accompanied by blessings.
Jesus made this Passover meal his last meal with his disciples. As they ate, he used the Passover meal to explain the meaning of his death as a sacrifice that would liberate people from sin and form a new bond, or covenant, between God and human beings. He established the meal as a celebration of this new sacrifice and new covenant. By continuing to eat this meal after his death and resurrection, his disciples would experience God’s power liberating them from the bondage of sin and death and would be renewed in this new covenant. Every time we share Eucharist—the reenactment of this Last Supper and of Jesus’ death—we eat Jesus’ body and blood and receive God’s forgiving, healing, and life-giving love given through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The cast of characters. The primary characters in Matthew’s narrative of the Passion are Jesus and his apostles. During his ministry, Jesus called disciples to follow him, choosing twelve in particular (called apostles—“those who are sent”) to receive his teaching at close hand and to continue his ministry after his death. Matthew tells us that the apostles responded immediately to Jesus’ call, but that the journey from that point was not a straight one. The apostles quite often did not understand Jesus’ teachings. They seemed to be particularly resistant to his constant instruction that being his disciples involves suffering, and that his own life would end at the hands of others.
So, while the apostles have faithfully followed Jesus through his ministry, right up to time he enters Jerusalem, they have not completely understood his words and actions. The result of this failure to understand becomes evident in our readings. As Jesus enters his passion, the disciples falter and turn away from him, giving us much to reflect on regarding our own discipleship to Jesus.
Besides Jesus and the apostles, Jewish and Roman leaders populate Matthew’s account of the Passion. Caiaphas was the high priest in the temple in Jerusalem, the religious center of Judaism. He held office from about AD 18 to 36. The high priest was the head of the Sanhedrin, the council that governed the temple in Jerusalem under Roman authority. This body of elders could function as a court, but many scholars believe it was restricted from imposing the death penalty. The Sanhedrin was an important authority in Jerusalem, but it did not reflect the views of all Jews, or even of all residents of Jerusalem. The members of the Sanhedrin had their own agenda, which involved, in part, their interest in continuing their profitable relationship with the Roman regime. This factored into their decision to arrest Jesus and seek his execution (see page 74).
Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, or more precisely the prefect of the region, was appointed in AD 26. As the highest local representative of the Roman regime, he exercised the power of life and death over the inhabitants. Pilate often clashed with his Jewish subjects. He brought offensive images of the emperor into Jerusalem and took money from the temple treasury to pay for an aqueduct. He is remembered as insensitive and cruel, although ancient historians report that when threatened with unrest, he might back off from a decision.
Who is Jesus? Matthew’s Gospel was intended to solve the problem of confusion and misunderstanding about Jesus’ identity and mission. At the time, not even the disciples, who were closest to him, understood who he was and what he came to accomplish. The masses of Jewish people were no more enlightened. In Jesus’ time, there were widespread expectations among the Jewish people that at some point in the future God would send a messiah, a saving king, to release the Israelites from their subjugation by Rome. They expected a messiah who would have a political, as well as a religious, role. But Jesus did not involve himself in political life. He spoke of a kingdom, and while it concerned life in this world, it was not a national kingdom defined by geographical boundaries with political institutions.
Matthew presents Jesus as the Messiah who exceeded all expectations. He is a savior in a wider, deeper, more spiritual sense than expected. He is the Son of God. Through him, God’s reconciliation and healing have come among men and women—and not just for Israel, but for the entire world. Jesus is, indeed, “Emmanuel,” or “God is with us” (1:23).
Yet Jesus does truly fulfill God’s promises to the people of Israel. Despite the unexpectedness of his ministry and his death, Jesus is the culminating point for God’s saving action, which God began long before, at the time of the Exodus, and earlier with Abraham. In order to make this point, Matthew rarely misses an opportunity to draw our attention to how an event in Jesus’ life was prophesied hundreds of years before. He does this, however, not only to show that Jesus is the Messiah but also to help us understand what kind of Messiah he is.
In this book we will examine two important examples of Matthew’s use of the Old Testament: Mathew’s references to Isaiah 52–53 and to Psalm 22.
Chapters 40–55 of Isaiah were probably written during the sixth century before Christ, when many of the people of Israel, defeated in war, were living in exile in Babylonia (present-day Iraq). Within these chapters are found descriptions of a “servant” of God who suffers greatly and through whose suffering, reconciliation comes to Israel. In the centuries before Jesus, Jewish people did not connect this suffering figure with the expected messiah. But Matthew draws attention to it and squarely identifies Jesus as this “suffering servant.”
Matthew accomplishes something similar by quoting the verses of Psalm 22 that Jesus prayed while dying on the cross. Psalm 22 is a prayer offered to God by a person in great pain. This prayer describes cruel suffering at the hands of tormenters and apparent abandonment by God. In spite of this, the prayer also expresses strong trust in God and his power to save.
These passages from Isaiah and Psalms suggest that suffering is not necessarily a sign of God’s displeasure and that, indeed, God can bring great good out of suffering. These passages helped Matthew’s community understand the role of Jesus’ suffering in God’s plan and were an important lens through which Matthew viewed Jesus’ suffering.
This lens is as helpful for modern readers as it was for those who pondered Jesus’ death two thousand years ago. The sight of Jesus suffering on the cross can still confuse and puzzle us. We, too, have trouble seeing how God can use suffering for his purposes. The questions that Matthew seeks to answer are questions not only of the first century but of the twenty-first century as well.
The Time Draws Near
Questions to Begin
Use a question or two to get warmed up for the reading.
1 What celebration would you be willing to spend a lot of time and money on?
2 What do you do when an awkward moment occurs at a social gathering?
? I quietly pray that the moment will pass.
? I create a distraction by spilling my drink.
? I quickly change the subject.
? I try to help smooth out tensions.
? I head for the door.
Opening the Bible
Read the passage aloud. Let individuals take turns reading paragraphs.
The Reading: Matthew 26:1–35
The Son of Man Will Be Handed Over
1 When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, 2 “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”
3 Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, 4 and they conspired to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. 5 But they said, “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.”
Why This Waste?
6 Now while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table. 8 But when the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, “Why this waste? 9 For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial. 13 Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
What Will You Give Me?
14 Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I betray him to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.
Surely Not I?
17 On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.
20 When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; 21 and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” 25 Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.”
26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
30 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
You Will Deny Me
31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written,
‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’
32 But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” 33 Peter said to him, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples.
Questions for Careful Reading
Choose questions according to your interest and time.
1 Reread 26:5. Why might the arrest of Jesus trigger a riot? Why would the religious leaders want to avoid that possibility?
2 Reread the remarks by Jesus’ disciples and by Jesus himself regarding the woman’s use of expensive oil to anoint him (26:8–13). Why do Jesus and his disciples evaluate the woman’s action differently?
3 How well does Jesus know his disciples? Cite particular statements by Jesus. How do you think the disciples felt about his knowledge of them?
4 Does this passage leave you with an impression of Jesus
as a victim of events? Why or why not?
A Guide to the Reading
If participants have not read this section already, read it aloud. Otherwise go on to “Questions for Application.”
26:1–35. Two things are clear: Jesus is keenly aware of the horrible events that are about to unfold, and these events are connected to God’s interaction with the people of Israel in the past. Jesus predicts that he will be betrayed at Passover (26:2), thus indicating that what will happen will be no surprise to him and that, in some mysterious way, the unfolding events will be a continuation of what God did for his people when he brought them out of slavery in Egypt and made a covenant with them in the Sinai desert.
The religious leaders at first seem determined to avoid arresting Jesus during the Passover feast, when Jerusalem is bustling with pilgrims. Many in the festival crowds would be hoping that Jesus was the liberating Messiah. Their feeling of anticipation of liberation from the Romans might especially be raised by the Passover celebration, which brings a reminder of God’s liberation of their ancestors from Egypt. In this situation, arresting Jesus might spark public disturbances—disturbances that the Roman authorities expected the temple authorities to curb, or they would.
A tragic paradox emerges: The religious leaders are plotting to arrest the one who has come as the messiah to bring freedom from the bondage of sin and death. They will end up arresting him during the very feast that celebrates their people’s freedom from bondage.
At a dinner in a home in Bethany, a village on the outskirts of Jerusalem, a woman anoints Jesus with perfumed oil. Anointing was an expression of honor; it was also an action associated with burial in Jewish tradition. While the disciples fret about the cost of the oil, Jesus confronts them with the hard reality of his approaching death. He has told them again and again of the suffering that awaits him in Jerusalem (16:21; 17:22–23; 20:18–19), yet they still do not seem to understand. Does this woman sense what the male disciples do not—that Jesus’ death is imminent?
The religious leaders decide to abandon their plan to leave Jesus alone during the Passover when suddenly the apostle Judas appears, offering to facilitate Jesus’ arrest. The thirty pieces of silver may sound like a hefty sum, but Matthew’s readers would have known that it is not. In fact, it is an insulting valuation. In Exodus 21:32, the owner of an ox who had gored a slave is instructed to pay this amount in compensation to the slave’s owner.
Meanwhile, Jesus calmly proceeds with his plans for the Passover. The disciples are sent into Jerusalem to carry out arrangements that Jesus has previously made. Their preparations during the afternoon would have included procuring a lamb or kid, taking it to the temple for slaughter, and ensuring that the home for the feast was cleared of all leaven.
The Passover meal was and is a celebration of God’s saving action. Those who eat the meal remember that God miraculously rescued the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. The menu and the prayers during the meal are reminders of Israel’s identity as God’s people. The remembering is more than simply bringing the Exodus to mind. The participants in the meal remind themselves that they, too, are the recipients of God’s deliverance, just as much as the original Exodus generation. Throughout the meal the participants recall that they belong to the same people that God rescued from slavery in Egypt. They note that God continues to be present with them, as he was with their ancestors. Every Passover meal gathers the new generation into the divine presence and renews their expectation that God will fulfill anew his promise of freedom.
Jesus takes this traditional meal and invests it with new meaning. He blesses the bread and wine and tells the apostles to partake of these as his own body and blood. This must have been puzzling, even shocking, for the disciples. Jews are forbidden to eat meat that has blood in it, and the idea of eating human flesh would have seemed as strange to them as it does to us. But in this way, Jesus lets the disciples know that his death, which is imminent, will be a means of deliverance—a sacrifice “for the forgiveness of sins” (26:28). And he shows them that they will share in that deliverance from sin and death and will experience a new covenant—a deeper, more intimate relationship—with God.
Twice during the meal Jesus predicts betrayal. The apostles protest that they could never betray Jesus. As we will see, their strong convictions will soon fail.
Questions for Application
Choose questions according to your interest and time.
1 The disciples’ complaints in Bethany that anointing Jesus was a waste of resources points to tensions about how we should spend our time and money. Should we devote time to prayer or to serving others? What do you think?
2 Jesus shows that he knows his disciples better than they know themselves. When have you become aware of Jesus’ knowledge of your life? How have you responded?
3 Jesus was betrayed by a friend. Have you experienced betrayal? Are forgiveness and reconciliation possible after a betrayal? How?
4 Jesus ate the Passover meal at the home of someone who knew him (26:18). Think of Jesus eating in your home with you and those with whom you live. How might your awareness of Jesus’ presence with you as you eat together affect how you relate to each other at the table?
5 How has your appreciation of the Eucharist grown over time? How might reading Matthew’s account of the Last Supper increase your appreciation of the Eucharist?
6 How well do you think Jesus’ disciples understood what he was doing at the Last Supper? What helped them afterward to grow in understanding? What has helped you understand the Eucharist? How could you continue to grow in understanding of what Jesus does in the Eucharist?
7 For personal reflection: Jesus shares himself with his disciples at the Last Supper even though he is acutely aware of their weaknesses. What light does this cast on Jesus’ relationship with you? on how you might approach him in the Sacrament?
You should also be prepared to share your own personal stories that are related to the discussion questions.
Stephen Arterburn, The Every Man Series Bible Studies
Approach to Prayer
Use this approach—or create your own!
? Reread 26:26–30 aloud. Take a few moments for silent reflection. The hymn that Jesus and the apostles sang before walking to the Mount of Olives (26:30) probably included Psalms 114–118, which are traditionally sung after the Passover meal. Pray Psalm 118 together. If everyone has the same translation, you may pray it all together or divide into two groups and read successive verses alternately. If participants have different translations, ask one participant to read the psalm aloud for the group.
Saints in the Making
No Longer Alone
This section is a supplement for individual reading.
Andre Dubus (1936–1999) was an American fiction writer and essayist. Born in Louisiana, he spent time in the Marines before he settled down to a life of writing and teaching. Known for evocative, deeply spiritual, yet sometimes ambiguous stories, Dubus’s life changed dramatically one night in 1986 when he stopped his car on a highway to help two motorists in distress. As they were standing by the road, another car approached at high speed and struck the group, killing one of the motorists and causing such damage to Dubus that he was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
In his many essays, collected in Broken Vessels and Meditations from a Movable Chair, Dubus reflected on life, limitations, death, and his Catholic faith. In “Bodily Mysteries,” he pondered Jesus’ gift of himself at the Last Supper and in every celebration of Eucharist since, as he recalls attending Mass.
I am writing this on a Wednesday. The past five days have been bad ones, and I have prayed in desperation, prayed for strength, hope, love, gratitude. This morning I resumed my physical contact with God: I went to Mass and received the Eucharist. . . .
This morning, after struggling with two doors to get into the church, I settled in my chair and watched the priest lifting the unleavened bread, and saying, “This is my body,” lifting the chalice of wine, saying, “This is my blood of the new covenant” . . . and peace of mind came to me and, yes, happiness too, for I was no longer a broken body, alone in my chair. I was me, all of me, in wholeness of spirit. The old man assisting the priest handed me the Host, and I placed it in my mouth and was in harmony with the old man, the priest, the walking communicants passing me and my chair to receive the Eucharist; one with all people in pain and joy and passion, one with the physical universe, with Christ, with the timeless dimension of the spirit, which has no past or future but only now; one with God. Me: flawed and foolish me. I drove my car to church and consumed God.
Table of Contents
4 How to Use This Guide
6 The Mystery of Jesus’ Suffering
12 Week 1
The Time Draws Near
22 Week 2
Your Will Be Done
32 Week 3
42 Week 4
52 Week 5
62 Week 6
72 So Tenderly Loved
74 Jesus’ Death and the Jewish People
76 Suggestions for Bible Discussion Groups
79 Suggestions for Individuals