From The Gospel of Mark, by Mary Healy, commenting on Mark 14:12-16, 22-26
Mark’s whole account of the public ministry has illumined and prepared readers for what Jesus is about to do. The disciples had shared many meals with Jesus. They had learned that he overturns social and legal barriers, that he is the messianic Shepherd who feeds God’s people, and that he is able to provide more than enough to satisfy all. They had learned that he would “give his life as a ransom for many” (10:45) and be raised from the dead. Although they had not understood “about the loaves” (6:52; 8:17–21), and will still not fully understand until after the resurrection, now the mystery is being unveiled: Jesus himself is the bread, broken and given for many.
To understand Mark’s succinct account, it is important to read it in light of its setting as a Passover supper (see vv. 12–16). A Passover supper would include the traditional elements: a blessing by the head of the household, the ceremonial foods and wine, the retelling of the story of the exodus, and the singing of hymns. Jesus’ initial actions are typical of the host at a Jewish banquet, and are identical to what he had done in the two miracles of the loaves (6:41; 8:6): he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. The customary blessing was a prayer of thanksgiving to God for having provided for his people. The sharing of one loaf was a sign of the fellowship the banqueters were enjoying. Mark implies that even Judas is included in this fellowship, since he has said nothing about his departure.
According to custom the host at Passover interprets each of the ceremonial foods by relating them to the exodus. But Jesus’ interpretation goes far beyond the Passover and brings the meal to an entirely new level: Take it; this is my body. With these simple words, the Last Supper becomes a prophecy in gesture, anticipating and interpreting the passion that was to occur the next day. Jesus identifies the broken bread with his own body about to be broken on the cross. In Hebrew thought, “body” is not merely the flesh but the whole person as a physical being. Jesus is revealing that his death will be a gift of himself to them (see 10:45). By asking them to “take,” that is, to eat the bread that is his body, he is inviting them to receive this gift of himself into the depth of their being.