Friday, January 29, 2010

The Word for Friday, January 29

And now you see my cunning plan -- to hijack this meme! "Captain akaGaGa, you weel fly thees plane meme to Havana Fridays!"

No, not really. I'm not nearly ambitious enough to even contemplate a meme-jacking. Don't know how I'd go about it -- except that it generally involves weapons, and I'm not at all sure that I'm permitted weapons. And in any case, it surely sounds like a lot of work.

Anyway. In Matthew 26, Judas has betrayed Jesus, and He is being seized by the minions of the Jewish authorities. Verses 47 - 56:
And while He was still speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, came up , accompanied by a great multitude with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now he who was betraying Him gave them a sign, saying, "Whomever I shall kiss, He is the one; seize Him." And immediately he went to Jesus and said, "Hail, Rabbi!" and kissed Him. And Jesus said to him, "Friend, do what you have come for." Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and seized Him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus reached and drew out his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest, and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? How then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen this way?" At that time Jesus said to the multitudes, "Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest Me as against a robber? Every day I used to sit in the temple teaching and you did not seize Me. But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled." Then all the disciples left Him and fled.
Concerning the question I'm trying to look into -- whether a Christian is permitted armed resistance in particular, and violent physical resistance in general, to wrongdoers -- I'm thinking that what this passage doesn't say might be as significant as what it does say.

First and most obviously: when Jesus is seized by the agents of the religious authorities, He does not resist them. He does not resist violently; neither does He resist even passively. He doesn't run away; He doesn't "go limp" so they will have to carry Him. When a disciple fights to defend Him, Jesus stops that disciple. In His words, though, it seems to me that He does not lay down a general principle; rather He tells His disciple that He could easily avoid being arrested or interfered with in any way, but that to be arrested (and abused, and finally executed by torture) is why He came incarnate into this world; to physically defeat the authorities would also defeat that purpose. And that reasoning really doesn't apply to me, or to you. We are not the lamb without blemish, offered to take away the sins of all who accept the cleansing. Only He is.

Secondly, there's the business of the sword. At first glance, this is more evidence that we're directed to defenselessness. But let's look again. "Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword." That's quite different from saying, "Where'd that sword come from? You know we don't do swords. Get rid of it, and never touch a sword again in your life." It seems to me that when Jesus tells the disciple to put his sword back "back into its place," that really implies that the sword has a place -- and that place is where it just came from, on the person of the disciple. "For all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword" is puzzling, and I'll be the first to say that one of the challenges involved in following Jesus is that He loved sayings that are paradoxical on the surface, or that take our habitual way of thinking and stand it on its head. I don't think this saying should be read in the obvious way (whoever takes or uses a weapon is killed by, or using, that weapon), because we can see that it often isn't so. Lots of people spend entire careers carrying, making, or even using guns, and still manage to die in their beds at an old age. But the context is interesting, because Jesus immediately went on to point out that He wasn't lacking in direct power with which to resist those who grabbed Him, being equipped with many angels who would eagerly do His bidding. In this context, it seems to me that the "perish by the sword" phrase is a warning that if violence is our first, default response to conflict, then we're "all about" violence, and it in some way dominates our lives. Obviously, I may very well be wrong about this, and stand ready for correction.

On the whole, I think this passage can be taken as support for the position that believers may indeed physically resist evildoing, even with weapons; but that this form of resistance should not be our first-default option.

Click here for more Words for Wednesday.

2 comments:

akaGaGa said...

First, I refuse to go to Havana. I don't do cigars. But I actually kind of like "The Word for Friday," as it breaks things up a little so I don't feel compelled to race all over the blogosphere in one day. 'Course, that means I might not get here on Friday, either, depending on the schedule at hand. This weekend, my granddaughter - the computer hog - was here, and we also took a trip to Barnes & Noble to use her gift cards. Then we had a birthday dinner for my son yesterday. So here I am ... on Monday.

Anyway, this is an interesting passage, and you've obviously put some thought into it.

And that reasoning really doesn't apply to me, or to you. We are not the lamb without blemish, offered to take away the sins of all who accept the cleansing. Only He is.

True enough. But there are many Christians - though, obviously not all - who are called to die as martyrs. (Rev. 6:9-11) Americans typically don't accept that as our purpose, because we far prefer to "claim His blessings."

Like Paul, whose heart was broken when fellow believers wanted to prevent him from going to Rome to his death, I think it all depends on recognizing our individual call. Better ears to hear the Holy Spirit, and a stronger inclination to obey His voice, would benefit us all.

It seems to me that when Jesus tells the disciple to put his sword back "back into its place," that really implies that the sword has a place -- and that place is where it just came from, on the person of the disciple.

I'm not going to argue this one. You may very well be right. I'll only add that having permission to carry a sword does not necessarily mean it can be used on people. It could still be intended as a Bambi or lion killer.

all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. This is a puzzler, no doubt. Given the context, I wonder if Jesus wasn't just pointing out the benefit of relying on God and His legions of angels, instead of defending ourselves?

Another thought is that we "perish" not physically but spiritually when we use the sword against another person. From what I hear, killing someone - regardless of how well justified it might be - changes a person.

Then again, I've found that when something seems particularly obtuse, it's often because I'm trying to read something into it that isn't there. Sometimes Jesus meant just what He said.

Good, thought-provoking post, my friend. I look forward to the next installment.

Jim Wetzel said...

I agree with you -- and I didn't mean to imply that, because I'm not Jesus, I'll never be called upon to follow Him in something that He did. I only meant that in the absence of a specific command from God, it isn't necessarily incumbent upon (or even possible for) every believer to do everything that Jesus did, because we're not Him. We're made in His image, and we're supposed to become as much like Him as we can, and we can trust Him to make us able to become more and more like Him as our sanctification unfolds.

I started to write that I'm not going later in the week with WFW on a regular basis. But then I thought: don't say rash things that you can't back up. Based on the available evidence, it looks as if that's exactly what I'm doing! So, as James recommends: "if the Lord wills, then I will live, and perhaps also write a WFW post every now and then." For what it's worth, though, I still plan to aim at Wednesdays! :-)