In Matthew’s story of Jesus’ arrest, the most relevant part for “creating peace” is obviously when one of the disciples pulls out his sword and starts swinging. Then Jesus says: “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? But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?”
Doesn’t that seem like a pretty long speech for Jesus to give as he’s being arrested by an armed mob? It’s interesting that Matthew is the only Gospel that includes this speech in the midst of the arrest scene. There are some other differences as well—for example, John is the only Gospel that names the sword-wielding disciple: Peter (of course).
There is one detail, though, that remains consistent throughout every Gospel, and it strikes me as a very significant detail: the person whose ear is cut off is the slave of the high priest.
This is something that we, as people who want to create peace, need to pay attention to. Because it speaks to the reality of violent retribution: the people in power, the people doing the most harm, are most often not the ones who get hurt by violent retribution.
The slave of the high priest was probably forced to be there, arresting Jesus. He likely had no personal antagonism toward Jesus, but if he didn’t follow his master’s orders, he would suffer dire consequences. And it’s not just this one slave. Notice that early in the passage it says that the crowd arresting Jesus is from the chief priests and elders. These religious leaders are not doing their own dirty work. And they are not in a position to get hurt if Jesus’ followers decide to respond violently.
The generals are not on the front lines of a war. Our commander-in-chief isn’t near the battles at all. The United Nations reports that at least 3,812 Afghan civilians have been killed or wounded due to the war in Afghanistan just in the first half of 2019. In the United States, for every criminal killed in self-defense by a gun, 34 innocent people die by gunfire.
So we can add this to our list of reasons why we seek to create peace: because violence is more likely to harm the high priest’s slave than the high priest himself.
This post is excerpted from a longer sermon on Matthew 26:47-56.