In many ways today’s readings are a continuation of yesterday’s. Joshua and the gang continue their quest in Ai, ambushing and achieving victory there. Paul, in Romans, expands on the urgent appeal to love one another as a fulfilling of the law. This is achieved with a concrete example of judging and how many in Rome had selected dietary matters and other regulations as grounds for their superiority. Paul takes this head on. In Matthew, after the Gethsemane prayer, Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested.
It is the Matthew passage that speaks most deeply to my soul today. Details abound. First is the kiss. How ironic that the one who turns on Jesus chooses to violate the deepest trust and friendship with an intimate act such as a kiss. It really drives home the point, especially on the heels of the sleeping disciples directly before this story, that Jesus is not utterly alone. Even those who love him have violated that trust. In many ways this kiss is the most violent act in the New Testament.
Another detail, even more fascinating, is the incident with the sword, the slave of the high priest, and his ear being cut off. One of Jesus’ disciples draws his sword and the violence and bloody battle seems to have begun. Does Jesus call up arms? Is he ready to fight this Jihad? No. Not in this way. “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”
Jesus then aids in painting the stark contrast between a violent political Messiah and the one he is going to be. He asks, “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 would the scriptures be fulfilled?” Twelve legions is a staggering number. Will there be 72,000 angels plus cavalry come to his aid? No. Because something greater is at work here. Despite him appearing alone, he is still in control.
The Matthian account leaves the situation broken and in disarray. There is no telling of the ear being put back on. And then Jesus is left utterly alone. After the verbal tirade from Jesus, “Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.”
How often have we felt God has abandoned us? How often has violence torn us apart as a society, only to be seduced into seeing more violence as the answer? When can we wake up to the ways that God demands of us? When have we betrayed Jesus? And have we come to understand that despite that betrayal, Jesus still calls us his own? Can we even see the love before us?