Mark’s Gospel said this about me: “A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.”
I was in the garden that night, trying to get close to Jesus. I’d heard he and his friends were in town. They were amongst thousands who flocked to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.
I knew about Jesus and his teachings. Jesus spoke of a God who is actually interested in us, who cares what happens to us. When I went to temple with my parents, the priests and teachers of the law mostly wanted to make sure I was following all their rules, so I could be ritually clean. They were always on my parents, who didn’t have very much, to keep buying animals to be killed, and burned as sacrifices, so God would look more kindly on us.
We can’t afford a God like that, and we can’t afford to be clean, if that is what it takes. But Jesus said we are blessed if we are poor, or suffering, or in trouble. I wanted to know more about the God he talked about, who blessed people like me.
I wanted to be close enough to Jesus and his friends to hear what was going on. I was working up nerve to step a little closer, to come out from behind the olive trees, and approach Jesus. I never made it, because suddenly there was a huge commotion in the garden.
I saw the one they called Judas, a friend of Jesus, walking towards him. Behind Judas strode a gang of rough looking people, all armed. I recognized a few security guards from the temple. Some carried clubs, others brandished swords. They were loud, and looked ready for a fight.
Jesus opened his arms to embrace Judas. Judas kissed Jesus on the cheek. Behind Judas a man with a raised sword shouted, “He must be the one! Grab him!” The disciples nearest Jesus looked frightened. Then their fear turned into anger. I was surprised to see one of them raise a sword. He swung it wildly, like one not used to battle. His blade slashed the side of the head of one of the men with Judas.
There was a lot of blood and screaming. It was a terrible, confusing scene. I can’t be sure but I think the sword took his ear off. Only then did Jesus raise a hand, but not in anger or defence. He tried to calm the scene. He asked, “Am I leading a rebellion that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me?”
Things got really crazy. The guy who I think lost his ear, had blood gushing out the side of his head, and was calling out for help, but the people he came with ignored him. They were too busy grabbing hold of Jesus. Jesus friends were no better. They didn’t try to help the injured man either. They did not stand with Jesus. They ran! They fled off in every direction, some pushing frantically through the shrubs and trees.
I don’t know what happened in the garden after that. I decided I better get out of there too. I tried to run. Before I could escape someone grabbed at my tunic, and it was pulled off me. I did not look back, I just ran into the night. I was vulnerable, I was afraid, I was alone. Looking back on that night, I realize I was not the only one.
Have you heard the old saying that when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail? The people who saw Jesus as a threat sent out thugs with swords and clubs, under the cover of night, to grab Jesus and bring him before the chief priest. They flexed their muscle, and were eager to do violence, because that was how the game they understood was played. If you wanted to win, you used might and intimidation to put down those you saw as opponents.
It is easy to get sucked into that way of seeing the world. It happened pretty quickly that night to at least one of Jesus’ friends. The raiding party armed with swords and clubs appeared, and one of them pulled out his own sword, and struck out. But Jesus was having none of it. In one version of this story, found in John’s Gospel, Jesus healed the man with the severed ear.
Jesus asked the security force if they thought he was leading a rebellion. If he had been a terrorist, or a revolutionary, it might have made sense to send an armed party after him. But even in the midst of the raid, Jesus maintained calm, and responded peacefully.
People still got hurt. One lost their ear, another was stripped of clothes and ran off naked into the cold night. When people are ready to use violence, innocent bystanders will inevitably suffer. In war movies and news reports they call this collateral damage. Regular people have other words for it, and it is not limited to war zones.
Collateral damage can happen any time winning is all that matters, when other people are seen only as enemies to vanquish, and casualties the cost of doing business. Each of us can likely think of situations in which non-combatants, or innocent by-standers get hurt.
Some parents in custody battles treat their children as prizes to be won, or as pawns in a cruel chess game.
Refugees leave everything behind them to flee violence and terror inflicted on them by warring factions motivated by politics, or economics, but wearing the mask of religion.
There are bullies with such low self-esteem they see no way to connect with people except to hurt them and make them afraid.
People have their careers and lives torn apart when a big corporation buys a competitor, then guts the workforce in the name of a slightly better bottom line. When winning becomes the only thing, people are treated as things, or worse.
We are called to resist these sword wielding ways, and be more like Jesus. To see all people as children of God, and worthy of love, and respect and care. We might feel that hopes of living with compassion for all are as flimsy as the linen tunic torn off the young man. How can we live in this world, and not get caught up in the deadly game of winners and losers?
Early Christians lived in fear of the kind of violence and brutality Jesus and the disciples faced in the garden. Saint Paul, who helped found the first church in Ephesus, wrote some words to them to encourage them to have courage, and not resort to the methods of those who would do them harm. He reminded them the real struggle is usually not with the people involved, who in reality are usually not very different from us, but with the forces and influences that can overtake them. Paul reminded them that God offers all of us tools that can be of great help, as we resist evil in the world, without resorting to evil methods. He said,
“Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” Amen