17. Mark 14:47-50
But one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to them, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.” All of them deserted him and fled.
You can’t blame him. The guy who drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, I mean. The two dominant reactions to threat, after all, are fight or flight, and since this guy has a sword, he chooses to fight. It’s a natural response, maybe even a reasonable one. Given the penalty for blasphemy and insurrection – the accusations most likely to be directed to Jesus and followers – he probably figured fighting right now was his best course of action.
Yeah, it’s a natural response, even a reasonable one. But it doesn’t work. And I don’t mean simply that he’s outnumbered. Rather, it doesn’t work because, finally, violence cannot end violence. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t times and places for self-defense, or even violence employed to protect the vulnerable. The pacifist stand is admirable, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.
No. What I mean is that even if there are some situations in which violence is justified, it still never ends violence. It may be employed at times toward a good end, but it still only adds to the cumulative violence of the world. Violence may end the rule of a tyrant. It may stay the brutality of the oppressor for a time, but that cessation will not last. Because you can be sure that violence – no matter to what end it is employed – will sooner or later breed more of the same.
Which is why Jesus stops him. Why Jesus allows himself to be taken by his captors. Why Jesus calls into question the use of violence on either side. Because Jesus has not come simply to protect some people, or to achieve a greater good. Jesus has come to put an end to violence, to make a different way forward possible through his life, death, and resurrection. Jesus sees the gears of violence grind inexorably forward and he throws himself into them.
“Let the Scriptures be fulfilled,” he says. And what is this fulfillment he is talking about? It is the promise of peace, of shalom, that God has promised God’s people. And the reign of peace cannot be achieved by violence. This is the kingdom of God Jesus has been proclaiming since the beginning of Mark’s account. All the way back in chapter one, in fact, Jesus declared that “the time was fulfilled” – the only other time this word is used in Mark – and that “the kingdom of God has drawn near.” And now that kingdom is here, because the One who is both Son of Man and Son of God meets violence with peace, brutality with gentleness, sin with grace, and force with mercy. And for all these reasons, God raises this One from the dead, signalling that only love can defeat death.
The time has indeed come, and the Scriptures will indeed be fulfilled. Thanks be to God.
Prayer: Dear God, it is hard for us to comprehend that love is stronger than hate, that mercy is stronger than judgment, that vulnerability is stronger than power. Remind us, show us, have mercy on us, for Jesus sake. In his name we pray, Amen.