Matthew 26:55-54

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?”

It’s just now, as some in the crowd that came with Judas with swords and clubs grab hold of Jesus, that the disciples finally become aware of what is happening. It’s just now they begin to realize that all Jesus said will come to pass. And it’s just now that they realize that their friend, teacher, and Lord is in grave danger.

In response to that stark realization, their reaction is two-fold. They are first afraid and then, driven by fear, they resort to violence.

That is not an unusual pattern of response. Many of us grow afraid when we feel out of control, when we realize events are going in the direction opposite of what we had hoped. And all of us, I suspect, would have been afraid if we faced a crowd come with swords and clubs by night.

Nor is it unusual that fear turns to violence. Fear, I think, is often the essential ingredient to violence. For by violence we seek to take back control, to shift and shape events to our benefit, to protect ourselves from those we fear, and in all these ways to give us some sense of security in an unpredictable and at times perilous world.

But Jesus, while understanding their fear, rebukes their turn to violence, naming clearly and directly the destructive spiral that the turn to violence initiates: “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.

We have seen the same in our own society. Fearful, we invite people to carry guns. When those guns are used in our schools, we hire police and armed guards to patrol our schools. And when that fails to protect our children, we debate whether the teachers themselves should carry guns. Fear leads to violence, which leads to greater fear, and then greater violence. And Jesus’ words still ring out across the centuries: “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”

But Jesus doesn’t only rebuke their – and our – penchant to turn to violence to calm our fears, he also offers an alternative composed of different ingredients entirely. In response to the fear that is part of our life, Jesus invites trust and courage. First, trust: Jesus trusted that God was with him, that God would accompany him, that God would see him through. And so while he could appeal to a legion of angels should he need to be protected by force, he does not, trusting his father.

And from trust, courage is born. Courage, we should remember, is not the absence of fear; rather, it is the ability to keep faith, to do what is necessary, to be true to one’s self and mission, even and especially when you are afraid. Jesus’ trust in his father allows him to face a fearful future with courage. And so, facing seizure, arrest, accusation, trial, mistreatment, and crucifixion, Jesus addresses both followers and opponents and declares his trust and courage that all that is to happen is in accord with Scripture.

Prayer: Dear God, when we are afraid, grant us the courage to refuse the easy and destructive path of violence and instead trust that you are with us, always. In Jesus’ name, Amen.


Post Image: “The Capture of Christ,” by Fra Angelico, c. 1440.