THE MAN WITH THE PITCHER
The bargain was struck, the price paid, the buyers were impatient to finish the transaction. They had said "before the Feast day." (John 13:1) The great feast day of the Passover fell on a Saturday and this was Thursday.
Jesus had but one more day of freedom, the last day.
Before leaving His friends, those who were to abandon Him that night, He wished once more to dip His bread in the same platter with them. Before the Syrian soldiery should have spit upon Him, before He should be defiled by the Jewish filth, He wished to kneel down and wash the feet of those who until the day of their death were to travel all the roads of the earth to tell the story of His death. Before the blood dropped from His hands, His feet, His chest, He wished to give the first fruits to those who were to be one soul with Him until the end. Before suffering thirst, nailed upon the cross, He wished to drink a cup of wine with His companions. This last evening before His death was to be like an anticipation of the banquet of the Kingdom.
On the evening of Thursday, the first day of unleavened bread, the Disciples asked Him, "Where wilt thou that we go and prepare that thou mayest eat the Passover?" (Mark 14:12)
The Son of Man, poorer than the foxes, had no home of His own. (Matt. 8:20; Luke 9:58) He had left His home in Nazareth forever. The prosperity gospel does not fit the lifestyle and teaching that He lived. The home of Simon of Capernaum, which had been in the early days like His own, was far away; and the home of Mary and Martha in Bethany, where He was almost Master, was too far outside the city.
He had only enemies in Jerusalem or shame-faced friends: Joseph of Arimathea was to receive Him as his guest only the next evening, in the dark cave, the banquet-hall of worms.
But a condemned man on his last day has a right to any favor he may ask. All the houses of Jerusalem were rightfully His. The Father would give Him the house best suited to shelter His last joy. And He sent two Disciples with this mysterious command, "Go ye into the city, and there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water; follow him. And where so ever he shall go in, say ye to the good man of the house, the Master saith, My time is at hand; where is the guest chamber, where I shall eat the Passover with my disciples? And he will show you a large upper room furnished and prepared: there make ready for us." (Mark 14:13-15)
It has been believed that the master of that house was a friend of Jesus and that they had arranged this beforehand. But that cannot be. Jesus would have sent the two Disciples straight to him, giving his name, and would not have had recourse to the following of the man with the pitcher.
There were many men on the morning of that feast day who must have been coming up from Shiloh with pitchers of water. The two Disciples were to follow the first one whom they saw before them. They did not know why they were not to stop him instead of going after him to see where he went in. His master, since he had a servant, certainly was not a poor man, and in his house, as in all those of prosperous people, there would certainly be a room suitable for serving a supper, and he would know at least by hearsay who "the Master" was. In those days at Jerusalem there was little talk of anything else. The request was one which could not be refused. "The Master saith, My time is at hand." (Matt. 26:18) The time which was "His" was the hour of death. No one could shut out from his house a man at the point of death, who wished to satisfy his hunger for the last time. The Disciples set out, found the man with the pitcher, entered the house, talked with the master, and prepared there what was necessary for the supper: lamb cooked on the spit, round loaves without leaven, bitter herbs, red sauce, the wine of thanksgiving, and warm water. They set the couches and pillows about the table and spread over it the white cloth. On the cloth they set the few dishes, the candelabra, the pitcher full of wine, and one cup, one cup only to which all were to set their lips. They forgot nothing: both were experienced in this preparation. From childhood up, in their home beside the lake, they had watched, wide-eyed, the preparations for the most heart-warming feast of the year. And it was not the first time since they had been with Him whom they loved, that they had thus eaten altogether of the feast of the Passover. But for that last day—and perhaps their dull minds had at last understood the dreadful truth that it was really the last—for this last supper which all the thirteen were to have together, for this Passover which was the last for Jesus and the last valid Passover for old Judaism because a new covenant was about to begin for all countries and all nations: for this festal banquet which was a memorial of life, and a warning of death, the Disciples performed those humble menial tasks with a new tenderness, with that pensive joy that almost brings tears. They were about to be taught the Lord’s Supper with its deep rooted meaning of His threefold ministry: past, present, and future. (John 13)
With the setting of the sun, the other ten came with Jesus and placed themselves around the table, now in readiness. All were silent as if heavy-hearted with a foreboding which they were afraid to see reflected in their companions' eyes. They remembered the supper in Simon's house, almost depressing, the odor of the nard, the woman and her endless weeping, and Christ's words on that evening, and His words of those last days; the repeated warnings of shame and of the end; the signs of hatred increasing about them, and the indications, now very plain, of the conspiracy, which with all its torches was about to come out from the darkness.
But two of them—for opposite reasons—were more oppressed, more moved than the others: the two for whom this was the last of their lives, the two who were about to die: Christ and Judas, the one sold and the seller; the Son of God and the abortion of Satan.
Judas had finished his bargain, he had the thirty pieces of silver on his person wrapped tightly so that they would not clink. But he knew no peace. The Enemy had entered into him, but perhaps the friend of Christ was not yet dead in his heart. To see Him there in the midst of His friends, calm but with the pensive expression of the man who is the only one who knows a secret, who is aware of a crime, a betrayal; to see him, still at liberty in the company of those who loved Him, still alive, all the blood still in His veins under the delicate protection of the skin—and yet those bargainers who had paid the price refused to wait any longer, the affair was arranged for that very night—and they were only waiting for Judas to act. But suppose Jesus, who must know all, had denounced him to the eleven? And suppose they, to save their Master, had thrown themselves on Judas to bind him, perhaps to kill him? Judas began to feel that to betray Christ to His death was perhaps not enough to save himself from the death, which he so greatly feared and yet which was near upon him.
All these thoughts darkened his somber face, more and more blackly, and at times terrified him. While the more active ones busied themselves with the last arrangements for serving the supper, he looked secretly at the eyes of Jesus—clear eyes scarcely veiled with the loving sadness of parting—as if to read there the revocation of his fate, so close at hand. Jesus broke the silence: "With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer: For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God." (Luke 22:15) So obviously this was a new type of supper: the Lord’s, a feast of threefold love. (See articles on threefold communion from John 13)
Such great love had not up to that moment been expressed by any words of Christ to His friends: such a longing for the day of perfect union, for the feast, so ancient and destined to so great a direction. They knew that He loved them; but until this evening their poor bruised hearts had not felt how heartbreaking His love was. He knew that this evening was the last break of rest and cheer before His death, and yet He had desired it fervently as though it were a benefit, with that fervor which is the mark of passionate souls, souls on fire, loving souls, those who battle for the love of victory, who endure all things for a high prize. He had passionately desired to eat this Passover with them. He had eaten others: He had eaten with them thousands of other times, seated in boats, in their friends' houses, in strangers' houses, in rich men's houses, or seated beside the road, in mountain pastures, in the shadow of bushes on the shore; and yet for so long He had fervently desired to eat with them this supper which was the last! The blue skies of happy Galilee, the soft winds of the spring just passed, the sun of the last Passover, the waving branches of His triumphant entry, did He think of them now? Now He saw only His first friends and His last friends, the little group destined to be diminished by treachery, and dispersed by cowardice. Still, for a time they were there about Him in the same room: the upper room, at the same table, sharing with Him the same overwhelming grief, but sharing also the light of a supernatural certainty.
Up to that day He had suffered, but not for Himself; He had suffered because of His passionate desire for this nocturnal hour, when the air was already heavy with the tragedy of farewells. And, when He had thus told them how great was His love: a threefold love, Christ's face, soon to be battered, shone with that noble sadness which is so strangely like joy.