911, Forgiveness, Just War Theory, Nonviolence, Put your sword back!, Reconciliation, Remembrance Day, Suffering, The Cross as Shock Therapy for a world addicted to Violence, The place of violence in our times, Unarmed and Disarmed, Violence, War and Peace
Remembrance Day is a time to reflect on the history of war, its many lessons, and the place that violence still plays in our lives. I want to draw your attention to a violent incident that befell Jesus and His companions before He was crucified. On the evening He would be arrested, He and His best friends were in the Garden of the Olive Press across the Kidron Valley from the temple in Jerusalem.
“Then temple guards stepped forward, seize Jesus and arrested Him. With that, one of Jesus’ companions reach for his sword, drew it out and cut the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. ‘Put your sword back in its place,’ Jesus said to him, ‘for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.'” Matthew 26:50-52
When soldiers and authorities arrest Jesus, Luke records the disciples asking, “Lord, shall we strike with a sword?” (Luke 22:49). The question reveals that they appear to be unable to comprehend Jesus’ way of nonviolence. “Over and over again,” John Dear writes, “Jesus instructs them to love their enemies and to lay down their lives for one another, thus preparing them for confrontation with ruling authorities and the inevitable outcome. But the disciples never understand Jesus.”
“Shall we strike with a sword?” they ask – and rarely does anyone wait for an answer, for when we have a hammer everything begins to look like a nail; when we have a sword, why not use it in any situation where it can be used? I am ashamed for a kind of violent triumphalism that some of my Christian brothers think is justifiable in the face of terrorism. 911 has been used to justify unspeakable atrocities, as if Jesus would rubber stamp these as the expressions of a just war. I think we are mistaken if we think He is on “our” side. We are continually faced with the ultimate surrender of joining Him on His side. This is a profoundly different position.
Jesus stands in contrast to our inclination to take revenge. He does not take justice into His own hands. He who said He could invoke 12 legions of angel armies to protect Him if He wanted to – did not do that. Dear writes, “He will not become a murderous, imperial messiah; He is the nonviolent Suffering Servant of Isaiah. He is a peacemaking, sacrificial God.”
“Put your sword back!” are the last words the disciples hear from Jesus before they run away. If there was ever a time when violence would be justifiable, wouldn’t this be it? John Dear writes:
But Jesus is clear: Put your sword back! His followers are not allowed to harm others. They are not allowed do threaten others or use violence to deter violence. Why? Because all those who take up the sword will die by the sword. Violence begets violence. Killing begets killing… although He knows that He will perish under the cross’s violence, He places His hope in the God of Life and awaits that third day.
Put Your Sword back!
The command stands as the ultimate reproof of violence, and whenever we resort to violence, we betray the fact that we side with the empire. We are called to be people “who prefer to undergo violence rather than inflict it upon others,” though we would prefer no violence at all. We renounce war and violent self-defence; we will beat our swords into plowshares.
(For a provocative take on this topic, see “Would Jesus Wear a Sidearm?“)
The unarmed Christ disarms us.
Put your sword back! And His disciples turn and run. They run not only from the imperial authorities – they run from the unarmed, nonviolent Christ who will not defend Himself against personal harm. Brian Zahnd writes insightfully in his blog, “the cross is shock therapy for a world addicted to solving its problems through violence.” He contrasts Jesus with the story of Achilles who dragged Hector’s body from his chariot in front of the gates of Troy:
… But it’s not the way of the new world founded by Jesus. Jesus is not the warrior king the world is accustomed to. Jesus is not the Jewish “Achilles.” Jesus refused to be the violent Messiah Israel longed for. Jesus did not kill Pilate and drag the governor’s body behind his chariot. Jesus did not pose triumphantly over the dead bodies of slain Roman soldiers.
Instead it was Jesus who hung naked on a tree after being put to death through a state-sponsored execution. Jesus founded his kingdom in solidarity with brutalized victims. This is the gospel, but it’s hard for us to believe in a Jesus who would rather die than kill his enemies. It’s harder yet to believe in a Jesus who calls us to take up our own cross, follow him, and be willing to die rather than kill our enemies.
This Remembrance Day, may I nudge you to consider the place of violence in your world view; to not just take it for granted because of how naive you might think it is in the face of obvious terrorism. May I nudge you to a faith in a wider wonder world of God’s sovereign wisdom and tender firmness. And… may I encourage you to put your sword back.
Life is short. Then you die. While we live now, let us live for the One who made us for Himself.
I welcome your informed response.
(Though I am intentional to quote directly, there are several paraphrased ideas that I must credit John Dear from Jesus the Rebel.)
For more discussion, go to Thoughts on War and Peace.