Scripture Reading: Matthew 26:48-54
One of the most beautiful things one person can do for another is to offer forgiveness. When the 9 people were shot during a prayer meeting in Emmanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina by a pure racist act of terrorism, what did the families do?
They forgave the shooter.
They forgave a young man who spent an hour in the church, sitting among his victims before opening fire and ending the lives of nine people. His hatred was so strong, even sitting for an hour among them as they welcomed him openly in to their group, he still chose to open fire.
And they forgave him.
Could you have done it?
I can’t say I’m sure I would. I hope I never have to face that decision because it would just tear you apart. Wouldn’t it?
These people, in the face of racism, hatred and violence have responded in peace. And they’ve done so in an incredibly powerful way.
Over the last few weeks we’ve been looking at the “Genius of Jesus”. We first looked at how Jesus encouraged the potential in others, especially with his disciples. We saw how Jesus took a regular bunch of young men and turned them into something special. Something he can do with all of us as well.
Then we looked at how Jesus took to balancing power. How he taught us how to work to make things fair for all people, and also how he warned us of the consequences for ignoring the needs of the vulnerable in our communities.
This week we’re looking at how Jesus promotes peace.
In our reading, we heard the arrest of Jesus. Jesus has had the last supper with his friends. He has warned them all that he is about to be betrayed. Together they retreat to Gethsemane so Jesus could pray. Jesus asks them to sit with him, but they keep falling asleep.
And then Judas arrives with a crowd to take Jesus away. Among the crowd are priests, their servants and other leaders of the Jewish community. Once they are sure it’s Jesus, they grab him and begin to take him away.
I’m certain this was chaotic scene. There would have been plenty of emotion in this moment. The religious leaders moving in to take Jesus away, surrounded by a large crowd. The disciples would be trying to get close to Jesus to protect him. There would have been lots of raised voices shouting at each other. There would be pushing and shoving among the crowd as people jostle for position.
And then someone draws a sword and cuts off a man’s ear.
At this moment you would expect a riot. With all the emotion you’d think a brawl would erupt. But we don’t see that. What we see next is Jesus speaking to the disciple who drew the sword.
“Put your sword back into its place. For all 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?”
Jesus says it simply. If there was going to be a fight, there would be a fight. There would be plenty of support coming if it was needed. But this was not a time to fight. This was to be a time when God’s plan would be revealed.
So in an incredibly heated, emotional moment, Jesus disarms the crowd with a few words. Jesus’s words bring peace in a moment of violence.
When no other way seemed possible, Jesus showed there is always a way.
How many times do we see in the news where a heated situation becomes violent in just a few seconds when someone does one wrong thing? When just a few people provoke some sort of extreme action. When they get into a mob mentality where things will fly out of control at a moments notice. It happens far more often than we care to admit.
And if there ever was a moment where you could say, “That riot was worth it.” would have been when they came to take Jesus away.
Jesus has just spent three years teaching against what much of the religious leaders have been teaching for hundreds of years, if not thousands. You could argue that Jesus has been asking for it.
He’s done much to poke and provoke the established religious expectations. He’s ignored the sabbath. He’s ignored rules around social interactions with women, children and foreigners. He’s made audacious claims about who he is and what God expects of the world.
Yet, instead of fighting, he accepts his fate willingly.
What else has Jesus taught in heated moments? What about when the woman was caught in adultery and the mob brought her before him to be judged? The crowd was ready to stone her to death. Their hands tightly gripping the rocks, ready to launch.
Jesus stops and writes in the sand. And he permits them to do go ahead with the stoning, with one stipulation. The one who throws the first stone must be without sin.
Another heated, potentially violent situation defused by Jesus.
The world in Jesus day was pretty messed up. The Jewish people were living under an occupation of the Roman Empire. They were attempting to live by two separate sets of rules. One by the government, and one by their religion.
People were suffering in the streets from injuries and diseases and no one was helping them. People were living unethical lives, taking advantage of each other, stealing from each other, judging each other continuously.
Oh wait a minute, am I talking about the time Jesus lived or today?
If God wanted to make things right, he could have come and declared war on the occupying forces and the sin of the world. He could have come and broken down nations and their armies, he could have come and destroyed those who are chronic sinners and those who are teaching false ways of living.
But God didn’t do these things.
God didn’t come to destroy. He came to love.
He didn’t come to start wars, he came to bring peace.
“If you live by the sword, you will die by the sword.” is what Jesus said.
In other words, if you choose violence, you will find it. So why not choose peace?
If Jesus had come as the general of an army, what would the lasting effects be on the world? There would have been a constant war as army after army, opponent after opponent, rose up to do battle with him.
After World War II, there has been a certain amount of tension continuing to exist in the world today. The Cold War, the Arms Race, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and many other events added to the tension. Nations, such as America and Russia, sought to build up huge stores of apocalyptic weapons in case someone else might attack first.
The rationale being, if we have the weapons to fight back, no one will attack.
So World War 3 was held at bay by a mutual distrust of the other nations. Not because we sought peace. In the meantime, children were taught how to duck under their desks should a nuclear attack happen.
So peace was kept by keeping people living in fear.
It’s not an uncommon tactic when you think about it.
“If I ever catch you doing that again I will beat you.”
Or one of the other similar sayings we have all said at some point in our lives.
But that’s not the example Jesus gives.
Jesus never used fear or intimidation to share his message of peace. This is how he asks us to live as well.
And it’s not new to Jesus either. Several times in the Old Testament we hear of how God will bring an end to war in the world.
In Isaiah 2 we read from the prophet,
“It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go the law,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore”
And in the book of Micah, chapter 4, you can read those same words.
People often say the Bible is full of war and violence. And it is. I won’t dispute that.
But when they said it is God’s will to have this violence, that it is our God who initiates the violence, then I have a problem.
The Bible is full of stories of people. Stories about how they live and how God interacts and intercedes in their lives. These are fallen and sinful people, just like we are fallen and sinful people today.
They make mistakes. They chase their own dreams. They chase their own greed and pride. And it gets them into trouble.
And God, in his love, pulls them out.
This is our God. A God who wishes wars would cease and love would prevail. Our God who would have us all respond to hatred like our brothers and sisters at Emmanuel church, that is to forgive and show love and mercy.
If we continue to fight hatred with hatred, then things will never change.
Love is the only answer that works. It’s the only response Jesus gave to those who were in need, for those who were caught in sin, for those who were strangers, for those who were angry, for those who were ill.
Now the challenge is, how will love transform us and the world we live in?
Real change is not brought about by war and violence. Long-lasting, permanent change in the world is brought through the changing of people’s hearts. It’s brought about by love.
That’s the genius of Jesus. He shows how the world is prone to violence, how it is through love that God changes the hearts of men and women and makes this world a better place.
May we too show love to a hurting, broken and sinful world to bring healing, hope and change to the lives of many.