The location is the Garden of Gethsemane and Jesus is about to be arrested. Peter decides that if Jesus won’t defend himself he’ll have to do it for him. Being a fisherman and not a swordsman he swings at the wrong person (a mere servant) tries to take his head off (and misses) but does manage to cut off his ear. Somehow a full scale riot doesn’t break out and Jesus reattaches poor Malchus’ ear. He also reprimands Peter. Cutting off heads or even lopping off ears in Jesus’ Name isn’t acceptable behavior.
Peter should have known this. He’s seen that “power plays” aren’t Jesus’ way. It’s his enemies, the religious leaders, who wrap themselves up in their robes of righteousness and then say and do anything for the sake of God. As we’ll see later on this same night, they aren’t above lying or even manipulating murder “for the Lord.”
As for Jesus, he practices what he preaches. Even as he’s nailed to a cruel cross there’s no “sword language” from him. He could have called “twelve legions of angels” but instead he prays for those who have it all wrong and are putting him to death.
Later on, the infant Church takes the teachings of Jesus to heart. For them, becoming a follower of Jesus is to start down the road to martyrdom. A part of converting to Christianity is to prepare for a violent death in the Roman Coliseum. Clearly, these aren’t a people of the sword.
It would be nice if we could say that followers of Jesus have always obeyed his “no swords” policy but we know it’s not true. At times Christians have reverted to force, not only in “taking the gospel” to the world, but also in how they deal with one another. Sometimes, those who wouldn’t toe some ecclesiastical line have paid dearly for their willingness to hold to their convictions. It wasn’t the “sinners” who burned them at the stake; it was the “Christians.”
To this day there are those who, for the sake of Jesus, take out the sword and start swinging. Happily, in this day it’s not the “blood letting” kind of sword. Rather they use the sword of the tongue or pen. Wrapping themselves in robes of righteousness they swing wildly at those with whom they disagree. In righteousness indignation they do all they can to draw some blood in Jesus’ Name.
Maybe things would be different if they’d pay attention to the command of the Jesus they think they’re defending. As he says to Peter, “Put your sword back in its place.”
Have you ever had someone unjustly accuse you of being a liar or who says hurtful things to you or about you? In spite of the old “sticks and stones” rhyme, the fact is that words can hurt, especially if they’re skillfully stated or made in public. What are we to think of the person who says such things?
Jesus gives us an insight into the matter when he says: “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come…false testimony, slander.” (Matthew 15:18-19)
He tells us that words flow from the heart. The kinds of things a person says tells us the kind of person they are. Unclean words come, he says, from an unclean heart. If I go to a cesspool and find filthy water flowing out of it I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, consider the source.
However, I think there’s further application to be made from this teaching of Jesus. I think hurtful words often flow from an injured heart. An individual who’s in emotional pain will often speak or maybe write hurtful things to or about others. A person who feels they’ve been mistreated or judged unfairly and then cherishes that sense of injustice will start producing words of injustice of their own. After all, they’re filled with and being consumed by indignation. The result is verbal or written anger and injustice.
So what do we do when we’re falsely accused of telling lies or in some other way find ourselves the target of such abuse? When Jesus describes the source of “unclean” words he tells his disciples that “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides.” (Matthew 15:13-14)
It’s interesting that elsewhere Jesus says that when there’s disagreement in the Church that we’re to go to one another and work things out. However, when we’re dealing with unclean words coming from unclean hearts we’re to leave it up to the heavenly Father to handle the weeding. If we respond, we’re likely playing into their hands and just throwing gasoline on the fire. Instead, we’re to focus on doing the right thing and let God handle things.
In the case of “hurt causing hurt” I think we need to tread very carefully. In spite of the fact that we’ve been unfairly chosen as a target the truth is that it really doesn’t have much to do with us. Instead, we just happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Some people are so wounded that they’re equal opportunity wound-ers. The only answer may be to just take it. (Note: I’m not talking about physical abuse here.) Frankly, I think its okay to feel pity for them. However, unless you want to double their fury you’d better keep your pity toward them to yourself. They’re hurting at heart a lot more than they’re hurting you.