When they reached a place called Gethsemane, he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And he took Peter and James and John with him. Horror and dismay came over him, and he said to them, “My heart is ready to break with grief; stop here, and stay awake.”
Then he went forward a little, threw himself on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, this hour might pass him by. “Abba, Father,” he said, “All things are possible to thee; take this cup away from me. Yet not what I will, but what thou wilt.”
He came back and found them asleep; and he said to Peter, “Asleep, Simon? Were you not able to keep awake for one hour? Stay awake, all of you, and pray that you may be spared the test: The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Once more he went away and prayed. On his return he found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy, and they did not know how to answer him.
The third time he came and said to them, “Still sleeping? Still taking your ease? Enough! The hour has come. The son of man is betrayed to sinful men. Up, let us go forward! My betrayer is upon us.”
“In the first half of the twentieth century, Lewy, Baneth, Krauss, and Goldschmidt drew attention to the fact that the forms of the [Passover] Seder are based on Graeco-Roman table manners and dietary habits. But the most detailed evidence of this borrowing was provided in 1957 when Siegfried Stein published “The Influence of Symposia Literature on the Literary Form of the Pesah Haggadah” in The Journal of Jewish Studies.(4) Since then, Stein’s basic thesis has been adopted with variations by various scholars who have written about the origins of the Seder. (5) Stein proved in a very convincing fashion that many of the Seder rituals and literary forms found in Mishnah and Tosefta Pesahim and in the Haggadah were borrowed from the Hellenistic banquet or symposium….
[extensive list of parallels, including the alcoholic & educational functions of both forms]…
“What can we learn from all these parallels? The Jewish people throughout the generations did not live in a vacuum; it absorbed much from its surroundings. But it did not absorb blindly. The Sages absorbed the form of the symposium from the Hellenistic world, but drastically changed its content. The Greeks and Romans discussed love, beauty, food and drink at the symposium, while the Sages at the Seder discussed the Exodus from Egypt, the miracles of God and the greatness of the Redemption. The symposium was meant for the elite, while the Sages turned the Seder into an educational experience for the entire Jewish people.”
So here, all of a sudden, is a framework–for why we have all those familiar stories where Jesus uses meals as occasions for discussion & teaching! This sort of event was customary, both for Jews and for Greeks! Jesus uses the custom, but innovates within it by including guests that other Jews could (& did!) object to.
At that last supper, of course, the guest list was reduced to an inner circle and (at least in the synoptic gospels) the subject of discussion was more concrete, of immediate practical importance for those present: ‘Who is going to betray Jesus?’ and ‘Who is going to stand up for him when he’s arrested?’ If this was the Passover (Not all gospels agree on that!) then probably the Exodus would have also been discussed, but no one would have considered that unusual.
What about that after-dinner excursion to the Mount of Olives? Eating together, to celebrate the liberation of Israel from Egypt… and then going off that same night, to a place where Zechariah says that the Lord will someday defend Jerusalem against all its enemies. Perhaps this day?…
Traditional Hebrew prophecy is not unconditional prediction; it’s generally phrased as if it were but there are several occasions when God is persuaded to soften a judgement. So Jesus takes his immediate followers off to this one place, of all places, to pray. Was he expecting deliverance? Or expecting disaster, but hoping that sufficiently intense and earnest prayer might avert it? Why does he leave his comfortable table, and go to the one place he expects to find Judas with a posse?
After singing the Passover hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said, “You will all fall from your faith. For it stands written: ‘I will strike the shepherd down and the sheep will be scattered.’ Nevertheless, after I am raised again, I will go on before you into Galilee.”
Peter answered, “Everyone else may fall away, but I will not.”
Jesus said, “I tell you this. Today, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you yourself will deny me three times.”
But he insisted and repeated, “Even if I must die with you, I will never disown you.” And they all said the same.
During supper he took bread, and having said the blessing he broke it and gave it to them, with the words: “Take this; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and having offered thanks to God he gave it to them; and they all drank from it. And he said, “This is my blood of the covenant, shed for many. I tell you this, never again shall I drink from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
And when it was evening he came with the twelve. And as they were at the table eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.”
They began to be sorrowful, and to say to him, one after another, “Is it I?”
He said to them, “It is one of the Twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me. For the son of man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the son of man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had never been born.”