Jesus spent his final night as a free man praying for his disciples, both his current followers and all those who would come after. He had just eaten his last supper with his friends and you can feel the love and urgency in his words. It’s really a beautiful scene.
Then Judas shows up with his posse and wrecks the whole thing.
His mob moves in to arrest Jesus, and Peter reacts. Of course it’s Peter. He’s always the first to step up to the plate or stick his foot in his mouth. Earlier in the evening Jesus had predicted that Peter would betray him. Likely fueled by the emotion of that prediction, Peter pulls out his sword to defend Jesus and whacks some dude’s ear off.
But more interesting than the blood or dismembered appendage is the reaction of Jesus. Turning to Peter he says,
“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” Matthew 26:52
What Jesus was pointing out was that way had been tried before. This is the history of human existence. It was their own history. The Old Testament tells the story of a people being brought out of slavery and established as their own nation. They form an army and leave a bloody trail through the land as they battle the local people on the way to establishing their own city. Jerusalem becomes a powerful city built on the backs of conquered foes.
But as you can imagine, when you build a kingdom this way, someone is always looking to come and knock it over. So the former slaves find themselves slaves again. And even up to Jesus’ day they are an occupied people, oppressed by a bigger and more powerful force.
Israel lived by the sword and reaped the consequences.
So you can kind of hear the Dr. Phil-ish tone in Jesus’ words — How’s that working’ for ya? Or better yet, we know the results when we deal with the world by violence and force. This way has gotten us nowhere. It only solves temporary problems. It essentially changes nothing but who’s on top. The world will never become a better place through a sword.
So instead of drawing a sword Jesus chose to pick up a cross.
I see too many Christians drawing their swords these days. Whether it’s at their politicians on Facebook or ranting about a new law or even at each other due to a disagreement about doctrine. We easily draw our swords ready to defend our values or thoughts or traditions or ways.
Because like the Jews of Jesus’ time, Christians in America fondly recall the time when they were on top. We remember the days when it seemed like Christians were the majority. It doesn’t seem that long ago. So we hear phrases about a Christian nation and taking our country back. We really liked having some power, so it’s easy to draw our swords to fight for our way.
And I hear Jesus whispering to us, “Be careful. Those who draw their sword will die by it.”
The followers of Jesus are not people of the sword; we are carriers of the cross.
Our credibility as his disciples will always come from our ability to extend love and mercy. Not from our ability to defend and fight. This is exactly what Jesus was praying about in the garden that night.
We are to be forgiveness people. Those who turn their swords into plowshares so the world can change.
The world doesn’t need another sword, but living models of forgiveness. Tangible examples of unconditional love. Real bearers of grace to neighbors and enemies. People who willingly bear the pain and anger and hurt of the world when others would use it as weapons.
As long as we keep drawing our swords, we will reap the consequences of the sword.
But if we lay them down and pick up a cross, perhaps everyone — not just you or me, but everyone — can experience love and grace. And instead of dying by the sword, we can find life.
“Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all people love poorly. We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour increasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.”
― Henri Nouwen