Matthew 26: 48-54
When you hear the scripture today it will be familiar one to you but it will seem just a bit out of place. You see the context for this scripture is the Passion of Christ and it would be one of the stories that you would hear on Maundy Thursday of Holy Week. The beauty of hearing it now out of context is that we can focus on other insights that this piece provides for us. Let’s get to it….
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. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?”
The usual spin on this passage is the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, the indicting kiss that lets the arresting officers of the Roman army know just who their man was. The theological spin we put on it is that Jesus is complacent because he has to do what he has to do. He’s on this earth for a specific reason and it will, by whatever means, be accomplished. And the whole cutting of the ear part sure adds a bit of drama to the situation. One of those with him acts out his anger. And Jesus doesn’t like it.
But since we are now heading into the third week of the sermon series, The Genius or Way of Jesus, we are going to focus on the character of Jesus. We’ve already looked at Jesus as encourager of Peter to fish deeper into the waters of life to seek abundance, and then last week we saw Jesus lay out a very strong message, that is to make wise choices in life keeping power in balance. The part of Jesus character that we will look at today is how he resists the human tendency for violence and shows us another way to live that promotes peace.
I think that Jesus, as embodiment of the human spirit, would have, just like one of us, wanted to lash out. Let’s face it, he would have wanted to get angry and maybe he even did, but what sets him apart is that he doesn’t act as humans act. We know that he got angry, he wept, he felt emotions, which is what makes him very real.
But in this scene he does not act like we might have acted, he shows the way of non-violence and acts as peacemaker for those around him. Yes he was still arrested but through his actions he diffused his very angry followers from endangering those around him and inciting even more violence and rioting. Violent behavior only fuels hatred and recrimination, it’s a foil for the fear that lurks within. You can’t fight violence with violence and expect peaceful, peace filled outcomes, it just doesn’t work that way.
You may know that the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima was on August 6, just a few days ago. As you remember the US dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan and then only three days later we dropped a second bomb on Nagasaki. It was not one of our finest moments in time. More than 100,000 people were killed and another 150,000 were affected by related radiation illness and injuries.[i] Sure, the Allies won the war, but are we, as a world, any safer because of their deaths? Can we say that this brought us any closer to world peace and security?
No. I don’t think so. We still live in the face and fear of violence and in particular nuclear violence as evidenced by the recent Iran nuclear deal. If we were free now of nuclear threat then perhaps Hiroshima would not have been in vain. But that isn’t the case. Now I know that there are many more complicating factors today with the very real threat of terrorism but fighting violence with violence is not the answer to everlasting peace. Well thought out intentional non-violent resistance is. So what does that look like?
I want to share with you a bit about my niece. She is an extraordinary woman who has, in her lifetime accomplished much in the non-profit world. I am so proud of her. Today she works for an organization call Ploughshares Fund. Ploughshares works to reduce nuclear stockpiles, prevent nuclear states and increase global security. She actively works towards world peace with Ploughshares. And how do they do it? They advocate peace by supporting experts and advocates who implement strategies to secure a peaceful world without nuclear weapons.
They work towards global, read me GLOBAL security. A world where all people - me, you, and the people around the world will be safe and secure from nuclear threat which, as we know can destroy communities like Hiroshima and Nagasaki and worse yet, the soul and spirit of our fellow human beings. We all have the right to live without the threat of deadly nuclear warfare.
Thank goodness for Ploughshares and organizations like them because non-violent resistance is how Jesus responds in the text today. We see how his active love responds to violence. He shows us the way, it is the way of love, the way of the kingdom of God. It is the way of non-violent resistance. It is the way of Nelson Mandela, of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., of Mahatma Gandhi. It is the baseline for ethical and decent living.
It is not doing nothing. It is not sitting in a field of poppies with our arms raised and our fingers formed in the international sign of peace. It is working towards cultural and intellectual transformation that defy the ‘industry standard’, the status quo. It is seeking new horizons, thinking outside the box, dreaming of a world that is beyond human belief. It is believing in Jesus’ way because it is our way too.
This, my friends, is what Jesus shows us in this text today. “All who live by the sword will perish by the sword” so you can bet your booty that there are other ways to behave and to live abundantly and with dignity. And we need to find those ways.
I want to close with the often quoted prayer of St Francis of Assisi”…
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.”