While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him.’ At once he came up to Jesus and said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ and kissed him. Jesus said to him, ‘Friend, do what you are here to do.’ Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword’.
That last saying is interesting, I think. “Put your sword back where it belongs; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword”. Suppose when Jesus and his remaining 11 disciples were confronted by the angry mob he had said, “Draw your sword! (They only had one, remember) Draw your sword! We’ll make a fight of it!” The fight would have been a short one and we would not be sitting here tonight. And besides, it would have been entirely out of character for him to strike back—even in self defense.
“You have heard that it was said, (Jesus taught) ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also…”
And, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”
So Jesus’ command to his over eager disciple to put his sword back where it belongs was perfectly in keeping with what he had said all along. I’ve often wondered why there was a sword carrying disciple in the group in the first place.
“All who take the sword will perish by the sword”. But we are about to see that those who don’t take up the sword can just as easily perish as those who do. Jesus is about to be arrested, hauled into court, condemned to die and hung on a cross. Love your enemies. How’s that working out for you?
So what’s going on here? If loving your enemies can get you killed as quickly—or more quickly, than fighting them, what’s the point? If you’re going to die anyway, why not take some of the enemy with you? Why should they get off so easy?
These are good questions.
Why is violence so contrary to the character of God? Why is violence—even in cases of self-defense, so contrary to the teachings of Jesus?
It looks here like he gives Judas permission to arrest him. “Friend, do what you are here to do”— like he is walking to his own execution with his eyes wide open. Why does he do that?
What does he have to prove?
“Don’t you know”, he says to his sword swinging sidekick, “that I could even now appeal to my father and he would send me at once more than 12 legions of angels?” “Twelve legions” would be about 72,000 angels. More than enough to fight—and win.
But instead of piling violence on violence and hatred on hatred, Jesus takes a different path. He chooses to absorb all that violence into himself; to take it in without paying any of it back.
“Do what you are here to do”, he says. He offers no resistance. They can hurt him, clearly; but here’s the thing—they will not change him. He will not betray himself or his father by turning from his path—the path defined by love, kindness and generosity. He will sacrifice himself to preserve the vision of a God who is love; nothing but love.
The sun rises on the evil and the good. The rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous. Always has; always will. And so the sword stays where it belongs. The 72,000 angels stay in heaven. They must!
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness”, Martin Luther King said, “only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
This is the way of Jesus.