A Faith That Does Justice engages The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola[1] (Exercises) to discern God’s will and live faith in action on behalf of all God’s people. When appropriately adapted they offer a way for all people of good will to do the same.

The contemplations of the Third Week invite us to enter into the paschal mystery with Jesus. We walk with him from the Last Supper[2] to his agony in the garden[3], to his arrest and trial[4], and finally to his crucifixion[5], in “sorrow, compassion and shame”[6], as human sinfulness rises up against him and seeks to destroy him. Here, we contemplate Jesus’ Last Supper.

All four gospels describe Jesus sharing a final meal with his closest disciples on a Thursday evening during the final week of his life. The synoptic writers describe it as a Passover gathering, while John describes it as occurring before this solemn Jewish festival. In both scenarios, Jesus was arrested later that evening and crucified the following day. He was then hastily buried before the Sabbath began at dusk.[7] Mark describes it in the following manner.

On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?”  So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples.’ He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” So, the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

When it was evening, he came with the twelve. And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, “Surely, not I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me. For 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.”

While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take, this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (Mk 14: 12-25) [8]

Mark’s primary intent in describing Jesus’ Last Supper is to depict Jesus’ foreknowledge of, and authority over, his coming passion and death. He is in control of unfolding events and will accept his fate in fulfillment of God’s will. Jesus is aware one of the twelve will betray him. Moreover, in blessing the bread he has broken and in giving thanks for the wine he shares with those in his company, he is inviting them to become participants in his destiny and to establish a common union that will transcend his earthly existence. His actions have obvious eucharistic overtones and they were seized upon by the early church as a means to commemorate his ongoing presence among the Christian community.[9]


In contrast to the synoptic evangelists, John’s gospel uniquely includes the washing of his disciples’ feet as a sign of his humility and unfailing love for them.

(Jesus) got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, you are going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason, he said, “Not all of you are clean.” (Jn 13: 2-11)

Peter has misunderstood Jesus’ actions and will soon deny him three different times. Moreover, Judas is about to betray him for thirty pieces of silver. Nevertheless, Jesus’ love for those around him remains unshakeable. He is the Teacher unto the very end, expecting that his disciples will act with the same sense of service towards others that he has shown towards them.

“Do you know what I have done to you?” You call me Teacher and Lord – and you are right, for that is what I am. So, if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (Jn 13:12-17)

As the meal neared its end, Jesus alluded to his approaching death and departure from his disciples until a future time.

Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I have said to the Jews so now, I say to you, ’Where I am going you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13:33-35)

Ultimately, John’s intent in the Last Supper is to make clear Jesus’ love for others is not an abstract concept. It is to be lived in action, even if it incurs personal risk. Jesus has shown us he is the way to union with the Father and eternal glory in the kingdom of God.[10] It is a way of absolute fidelity to God’s will and humble service on behalf of God’s people and the values of the kingdom of God Jesus preached.

As we contemplate Jesus’ Last Supper, we ought to recall that the God Jesus has called Abba will become increasingly silent during his passion and death, as “the divinity hides itself” from him.[11] Jesus will no longer act in the name of the kingdom of God. Rather, the forces that work to undermine it will rise up to eliminate him. However, Jesus’ trust in God remains absolute, even if his disciples will soon abandon him. Let us pray for the courage to accompany him in his hour of need, to be present to him, as he has been present and loving to us to the very end, even to death upon a cross.

Jesus was aware the work he had begun on behalf of the kingdom of God would not be completed in his time upon this earth. It would take the commitment of disciples to continue his efforts to establish a new world order where all God’s people could be freed from the unjust burdens that keep them from achieving their potential as human beings and realizing their God-given human dignity. Let us accept the cost of discipleship and walk with Jesus among the suffering people of this world offering the gifts of our lives on behalf of a just world order.

[1] The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola are a series of Christian contemplations and meditations written by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, a 16th‑century Spanish priest and founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Divided into four thematic “weeks” of variable length, they are designed to be carried out over a period of approximately 30 days. They were composed to help participants in religious retreats to discern the will of God and commit to following Jesus in this world whatever the cost. When appropriately adapted, they can also help people of other faith traditions discern God’s will and engage problems facing society in the 21st century.

[2] L. Puhl, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1951), Sections 190-98.

[3] Ibid., 200-03.

[4] Ibid., 208, 291-95.

[5] Ibid., 296-97.

[6] Ibid., 193.

[7] Meier, A Marginal Jew, 1:386-406. Meier believes John’s version of events is most likely from a historical perspective. Others, like Joachim Jeramias, favor the Passover meal setting of the synoptic writers. Furthermore, Meiers further speculates April 7, 30 as the likely date of Jesus’ death, making his public ministry “two years plus a month or two.”

[8] G. Lohfink, Jesus of Nazareth: What He Wanted, Who He Was, (Collegville, MN: Liturgical press,2012), 253. Lohfink cautions that “body” refers to Jesus’ whole person. It is both a prophecy of his death and a sharing in his existence. See also, J. A. Pagola, Jesus: An Historical Approximation, (Miami, FL: Convivium Press, 2015), 348, fn 85.

[9] M. E. Boring, Mark: A Commentary, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 387-92. See also, F. J. Moloney, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers,2002), 282-87.

[10] F. J. Moloney, The Gospel of John, in Sacra Pagina, editor, D. J. Harrington, (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1998), 370-76.

[11] Ibid., 196.