Matt. 26.52-54: a teaching moment

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February 11, 2014 by jmar198013

On the night when Jesus was betrayed, one of his disciples, who had been dozing until then, decided to grab a sword and offer armed resistance. He cut one the ears of the high priest’s servant clean off. Jesus, knowing full well that he was about to be taken out and killed as a rebel, chided his disciple, saying:

Put the sword back into its place. All those who use the sword will die by the sword. Or do you think that I’m not able to ask my Father and he will send to me more than twelve battle groups of angels right away? But if I did that, how would the scriptures be fulfilled that say this must happen? (Matt. 26.52-54)

One of the coolest things about Jesus is that it seems like he could turn anything into a teaching moment. Even being arrested. Now, one thing to ponder as you read this is that Matthew was most likely writing to a church community whose members lived under the very real threat of being harrassed, arrested, and executed. In such a context, this account would serve to interpret a teaching of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount in a very practical way:

You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well. When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too. When they force you to go one mile, go with them two. (Matt. 5.38-41)

What does Matt. 5.38-41 mean? It means behaving as Jesus did in Matt. 5.52-54. Jesus’ own example on the night of his arrest would have answered the protests of any disciple in Matthew’s church who would respond to violence against the community by engaging in defensive or retaliatory violence. Jesus’ call to not repay evil for evil means doing what Jesus did.

Today, I am hearing tale of churches using off-duty policemen and even armed members for “security” and “protection.” I wonder, though–are they, like that famous disciple, dozing while Jesus suffers? Furthermore, as Jesus asked, if we go to fighting off any threats to us with violence of our own, how–as Jesus so poignantly asked–will the scriptures be fulfilled?

Incidentally, the most important teaching aspect of all here is that Jesus didn’t call his disciples to nonviolence from an ivory tower. He does not make us bear the brunt of a violent world while he himself is untouched. The one who commands us to turn the other cheek; to give the other garment; to carry the burden of our enemy another mile–was himself slapped, stripped, and made to carry a burden that was not his: the LORD let fall on him all our crimes (Isa. 53.6). Jesus only preached what he practiced.

The question for the church is, we will preach and practice what Jesus did?

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