instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The man carrying a jar of water who came in from the cold

Of all the things I would like to know about how Jesus spent the days leading up to His death, the details of how the location for the Last Supper was settled on are pretty far down the list. Yet each of the synoptic Gospels takes the time to explain it; Mark even (and uncharacteristically) gives a more detailed version than Matthew.

On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread,On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread,When the day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread arrived,
when they sacrificed the Passover lamb,the day for sacrificing the Passover lamb,
he sent out Peter and John, instructing them, "Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover."
the disciples approached Jesus and said, "Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover?
"He said, "Go into the city
when his disciples said to him, "Where do you want us to go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?"
He sent two of his disciples and said to them, "Go into the city
They asked him, "Where do you want us to make the preparations?"
And he answered them, "When you go into the city,
and a man will meet you, carrying a jar of water. Follow him. Wherever he enters,a man will meet you carrying a jar of water. Follow him into the house that he enters and
to a certain man and
tell him, 'The teacher says,say to the master of the house, 'The Teacher says,say to the master of the house, 'The teacher says to you,
"My appointed time draws near;
in your house I shall celebrate the Passover with my disciples."'""Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?"'"Where is the guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?"'
Then he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready. Make the preparations for us there."He will show you a large upper room that is furnished. Make the preparations there."
The disciples then did as Jesus had ordered,The disciples then went off, entered the city,Then they went off
and found it just as he had told them;and found everything exactly as he had told them,
and prepared the Passover.and they prepared the Passover.and there they prepared the Passover.

In particular, that cloak-and-dagger business with the man and the jug of water strikes me as a most unlikely thing to have been recorded in the Gospels. We can construct various plausible scenarios which explain why it happened that way -- to keep Judas from being able to betray Jesus before the Last Supper, for example. But why it was written down, what it meant to the Evangelists and to the early Christians for whom they were writing, that's a slipperier question.

As usual, the Church Fathers were able to derive spiritual lessons from this incident:
Pseudo-Jerome: And in a mystical sense the city is The Church, surrounded by the wall of faith, the man who meets them is the primitive people, the pitcher of water is the law of the letter.

Bede: Or else, the water is the laver of grace, the pitcher points out the weakness of those who were to shew that grace to the world... it is designedly that the names both of the bearer of the water, and of the lord of the house, are omitted, to imply that power is given to all who wish to celebrate the true Passover, that is, to be embued with the Sacraments of Christ, and to receive Him in the dwelling-place of their mind.

Theophylact: He who is baptized carries the pitcher of water, and he who bears baptism upon him comes to his rest, if he lives according to his reason; and he obtains rest, as being in the house.
These three go on to propose the upper room as a sign of "the wide-spread Church" (Pseudo-Jerome), "the Law, which comes forth from the narrowness of the letter" (Bede), or "the loftiness of intelligences, and which... is prepared and made level by humility" (Theophylact).

Perhaps the literal sense of the man with the jar of water (the NAB notes that "only women ordinarily carried water in jars," though the Greek word "implies simply a person and not necessarily a male"), the point about that day in Jerusalem the Evangelists were trying to make by recording the fact, lies less in the specific details and more in the overall effect of careful and elaborate planning on Jesus' part, in a way that depends for its success entirely on the free choices of others (the disciples, the water carrier, the owner of the house), of the Last Supper. It is a proof in action of Jesus' words, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer."