Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?’
We live in a violent world. No doubt about it. In one week of news coverage we have seen far too much violence:
- Bombs at the Boston Marathon;
- Poison mailed to elected officials;
- Gun violence in our cities and communities, and not too far away;
- Deaths in places of civil strife and war.
It can be discouraging, debilitating, and paralyzing. And here we are, called to live as the children of God. Yet we are left to wonder if Jesus and his message are naïve and no longer applicable in a world of danger. In our anger, which is appropriate, we might find ourselves looking to violence as our only response.
And yet, the image I cannot get out of my mind this week is from this text in John as Jesus rebukes Peter, challenging him to put away his sword as the authorities come to arrest Jesus. It’s a text that I wish those groups who are fighting so hard against any kind of appropriate regulation on the buying and selling of weapons would consider, particularly those who claim to be speaking out of a Christian ethic. “Put away your sword,” Jesus says.
Even in the midst of senseless violence, we claim a power beyond all that is evil. The One who told Peter to put away his sword continues to inspire people to live in ways that demonstrate the possibility of reconciliation and peace. That’s why I need the church. It’s a place where we can practice what it means to live in fellowship with one another, even those with whom we disagree. And on days when I wonder if the vision of Jesus is a fairy tale, destined never to be lived out, I sit down to consider those who give of themselves each day to their neighbors. I consider those who reach out in loving ways to other human beings. I consider those who rush to help others, even when it means risking life and limb. And I know that many of these persons are inspired and empowered to be signs of peace and love because they are followers of Jesus.
And, of course, weapons of violence do not have to be physically lethal. Our words, our actions, and our inactions can also be used in violent ways. As children of God, we are called to continue to grow in the ways of God’s peace and that is more than considering questions of guns and swords. It’s a question of how we use our lives in this glorious yet frightful world.
So we sing, “Lord, I want to be a Christian.” And a voice speaks, “Put away your sword and follow me.”