Devotion 43 – Living by the sword

Today the world has been sent into shock again at the terrorist bombings in Brussels, at the airport and a metro station. People were going about their every day lives, lives taken by complete strangers who have no direct connection with the many who were injured and killed. This is so reminiscent of the 9/11 attacks and other attacks around the world. Strangers perpetrating violence against strangers, civilians in their every day lives, who have personally done them no harm, all done in the cause of an ideology.

In the story of Jesus’ arrest in the gospel of Matthew, when the guards restrain Jesus, one of his followers cuts off the ear of a slave. He is trying to protect his master. Defend him. But we are given these words of Jesus: “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” [Matthew 26:52] Some verses later, we are told that the disciples deserted Jesus and fled.

Undoubtedly the disciples were afraid. Would they be arrested? Would they be detained? Would they be attacked? Were their lives on the line? Fear gave them a good reason to flee. But there may be more here. Jesus tells them not to respond with violence. We can imagine that their first impulse would have been to fight back. Take on the guards. Try to set Jesus free. That may very well have been the approach that they wanted to take: That they knew how to take. That they would have been comfortable taking. But Jesus tells them to suppress that impulse and quell that response. He has shown them another way. To take up violence would be to betray everything he has lived for and everything he will die for. The disciples don’t have an immediate Plan B, so they flee. They don’t know what to do if they don’t react with violence.

It seems that Jesus’ message is still having a hard time getting through today. The first reaction, even among Christians, is still to react with violence. We see many Christians idolizing the second amendment though it is very clear that Jesus would never support taking up arms. The sabers rattle in the face of terrorism. Presidential candidates threaten to bomb the terrorists into oblivion. And they are heartily supported with the votes of many Christians.

We can well imagine Jesus weeping in disappointment and despair for we still have not grasped his transformational message. Violence begets violence begets violence begets violence. The only thing that ends violence is love.

We pray for all those suffering the effects of violence in Brussels and around the world. We give thanks for Jesus, who has shown us how to put an end to the spiral of violence. May we continue to try to learn the way of peace from Jesus so that his death is not in vain. Amen.

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