Putting Away Our Swords
Over the last few days, I’ve been mulling further over everything I was taught at the retreat last weekend. One of the recurring themes seemed to be standing up for our beliefs, and being vocal about defending the truth in the Bible. We talked about our roots as a Christian nation, and how much more moral our society was fifty years ago, and how we must hearken back to those days to recapture the values that the Bible champions.
Of course I have my own misgivings about that language, but what I want to write about today is the tendency we as Christians have to take matters into our own hands. We fret and worry about how degenerate our nation has become, and how we must rally to restore values that have changed in our culture. And we guilt-trip each other with the responsibility of witnessing: “What if this person dies in a car crash on their way home from work today, and you missed the only opportunity you’ll ever have to show them Jesus and save them from eternal damnation?”
I’ve been thinking about this tendency, and of all things, relating it to Peter’s actions in the Garden of Gethsemane right before Jesus was arrested. In Matthew 26:51-54, we read:
“And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. Forall who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”
Now, this could quite possibly be an interpretive stretch, but I think you and I have a lot to learn from Peter here (we know this is Peter because of a similar passage in John). I don’t think Jesus is just chastising Peter for resorting to violence when his beloved Messiah is threatened. Jesus is reminding Peter that He is God, that he is capable of constructing events in the garden however he wishes, and that if Jesus is arrested it doesn’t have anything to do with God’s failure to protect him—or Peter’s failure to protect him—and everything to do with a larger plan, a larger story playing out that Peter can’t see in the moment.
I think that when many Christians talk about how we are responsible for telling as many people as we can about Jesus, when we talk about how we are responsible for imposing “biblical” (read: conservative) values on our culture, we are guilty of doing what Peter did in the Garden of Gethsemane. We are relying on our own strength, and our own supposed knowledge of what God’s will is, to bring about change and usher in what we think God desires of our lives and our nation.
But just think about it: Peter thought he was doing what was best. He was defending Jesus. He was standing up boldly and making a statement of devotion by cutting off that soldier’s ear; it was undoubtedly a very brave thing to do.
But that wasn’t the plan God had in store. God had a larger, more beautiful, more liberating plan for Jesus in that moment. He wasn’t supposed to be just another revolutionary, inspiring people to take up arms and fight for his defense. It was never God’s intention to call down angels to the rescue of his Son. Instead Jesus went away calmly with his captors and subjected himself to humiliation and torture and death.
He lived and trusted in God’s plan for his life, instead of walking through life as if everything depended on his own actions and words to usher in the Kingdom. So perhaps we ought to live like Jesus, and a little less like Peter. Perhaps we ought to remember that we are not responsible for how God works in the hearts of people to draw them to himself. That his plan so far beyond our own limited vision, just as it was in that garden.
God’s kingdom will come, and we must have faith in that. God’s plans are so much bigger than inspiring us to cut off the ears of soldiers in our defense of him. Maybe the best way forward is to obey Jesus’ words to Peter, put away our swords, and trust in God’s future as we grow and walk with Him.