Jesus, Peter and the Sword

Editor’s Note: This article was submitted by guest author Ellen Corcella.

The horrific and inhumane terrorist attacks in Belgium should weigh heavy on our hearts and souls during Holy Week as we mourn the death of too many more innocents.  The looming question is how will Western Europe and the U.S. respond to this latest round of violence.  There is already a competition among leaders and politicians to see who can talk the toughest against terrorists.  This is because we prefer to meet violence with greater violence.  Violence is contagious.  Rather than condemning it, we promote violence as the only courageous, rational and responsible way to defeat violence and attain peace.

During Holy Week, Christians re-enact Jesus’ arrest, torture and crucifixion by the Roman Empire. We should make no mistake about it. As Richard A. Horsey recounts in his book, In the Shadow of Empire: Reclaiming the Bible as a History of Faithful Resistance, the Romans were adept at using violence and terror to spread Pax Romana throughout its Empire.  The Empire raped the women, murdered the men and destroyed entire villages to subdue the populations of Palestine, Galilee and Jerusalem.  The challenge of this Holy Week, for me and for those of us who try to follow Jesus, is to grasp the true meaning of Easter, that Jesus wholly and utterly rejected violence.

Jesus met the terrorist culture of the Roman Empire with non-violent resistance and generous grace.  This is the most evident when Jesus, after his last Passover meal, retreated to a quiet garden to pray as night fell.  We know Jesus felt particularly vulnerable that night as several times he asked his small group of disciples to stay awake and pray with him.  The ruling authorities took advantage of Jesus’ vulnerability and sent a mob armed with torches, swords and clubs, to seize and arrest Jesus.  The mob’s display of force was designed to intimidate their target into blanket submission or death.

Peter, like we are today, was well schooled in the ways of the world.  Peter immediately and instinctively knew that the mob’s violence must be met with violence.  So, in defense of Jesus, Peter drew his own sword and sliced off the ear of the servant of the High Priest.  The significance of what happened next lies as much in what Jesus did not do as it lies in what Jesus did.  Jesus did not cheer Peter.  Jesus did not lead a charge into the warring mob.  Jesus did not bolster Peter’s violence by urging the other disciples to take their weapons and attack.

Instead, Jesus rebuked Peter and instructed him to put his sword back into its sheath (Matt. 26:52).   Jesus then told his disciples there would be “no more of this” (Luke 22:51) violence. If Jesus had not rejected the disciples’ imitative violence, the disciples and Jesus would have been clubbed and beaten to death by the crowd, who would see no other choice but to respond to Peter’s violence with deadly violence.

Then Jesus did something incredible.  Jesus reached out his hand, touched the wound of the High Priest’s servant and healed his ear. In that gesture, Jesus taught us not only to reject violence, but also to show grace to those who would violently attack us.

I often wonder what might have happened in Syria if  — early in the conflict — the U.S. and other nations dropped food supplies to the Syrian people.  Five years ago, before ISIS and before the splintering of opposition groups, the Syrian people simply wanted their own Arab Spring, their own freedom from a violent despot.  I have never really said this aloud because I know the response – instant laughter followed by strong assertions of my naiveté and unrealistic idealism.  However, like Jesus’ non-violent rejection of the Roman Empire, a humane act of peaceful resistance would have sent a dual message – we reject violence as a form of terror and we wish to extend a healing hand to a wounded people.  Sadly, instead of care packages, we sent bombs and drones.  ISIS emerged to radicalize demoralized individuals who now carry out deadly suicide missions.  And, so the cycle of violence continues.

Holy Week offers us a time for serious reflection, meditation and prayer about whether we can earnestly and truly follow Jesus when we would rather act like Peter.

Image: “The Arrest of Christ” by the Master of the Evora Alterpiece. Public Domain.

Ellen-CorcellaEllen Corcella has a M.T.S., M.Div. from Christian Theological Seminary, a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center; her Master’s Thesis explored mimetic theory.

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2 replies
  1. Richard Ilnicki
    Richard Ilnicki says:

    Thank you. Excellent commentary and greatly appreciated. “You have heard it said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemy, bless those that curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes his sun rise an the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” Mathew 5:43-45.

    Reply
  2. Ellen Corcella
    Ellen Corcella says:

    Dear Richard

    Thank you for your comments and the addition of another plain statement by Jesus that we are to reject violence.

    Ellem

    Reply

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