By porthkerryandrhoose, May 9 2019 04:07PM
Our Lent course this year followed the 2016 Ken Loach film I, Daniel Blake as a means of examining social injustice and oppression. In particular, we were asked to look at how the film characters responded to the various forms of injustice they encountered and to consider how we might respond in similar circumstances. In the film, Daniel and Katie (the main characters) are frequently frustrated by the situations they find themselves in. They try on occasion to challenge the situation with the authorities, or to fight back. At one period in the film, Daniel seems to give up entirely.
Our passage this morning, which details the arrest of Jesus is the beginning of what we commonly call ‘The Passion Narrative’. This is the gospel account of Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion, death and burial. Whilst John shows us throughout his account that this sequence of events was God’s ultimate plan to redeem and rescue his people, to our human minds, Jesus suffered a great injustice at the hands of the Jewish religious leaders, the occupying Romans, and indeed his own disciples. As we look at the account of Jesus’ arrest this morning, we’ll see varied responses to this injustice. We’ll see how Judas collaborated with it; how Peter fought back against it; and how the rest of the disciples looked to their own safety. Finally, we’ll look at Jesus’ own response to the injustice against him.
Firstly, we see Judas’ collaboration with the authorities. Luke records Judas’ decision to betray Jesus in ch22 vv1-6. In vv3-4 we’re told: ‘Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus.’ Now, as Jesus and his disciples are in the garden, Judas carries out the plan he agreed with the temple officials. He knew where Jesus would be, as v2 tells us that ‘Jesus had often met there with his disciples.’ John makes mention of the garden setting several times in the Passion narrative: here, and also as the location of Jesus’ death and resurrection. This has led some to make a connection with the garden of Eden, where sin entered into the world, and the gardens in the Passion narrative, where sins were redeemed. John reports Judas’ arrival in v3: ‘So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.’ The soldiers were Roman, the officials were court servants acting as some kind of police force. After the enthusiastic welcome Jesus had received when he entered Jerusalem, the authorities, with their poor understanding of Jesus, had reason to expect trouble. In recording the presence of both Jews and Romans at Jesus’ arrest, John indicates, as he will again in this narrative, that Jesus will die for the life of the whole world. The sin of both Jew and Gentile will be redeemed by Jesus.
But back to Judas. Remember, until now, the disciples had been unaware which of them would betray Jesus, as he’d predicted at their Passover meal. We now have an indication of the shock the disciples in discovering that Judas is the one. In v5, as Jesus speaks with the officials there to arrest him, we see a comment in brackets: ‘And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.’ Seeing Judas there, alongside soldiers and temple officials must have come as a shock to John and was branded into his memory. It’s such an emotion-filled statement in comparison with the factual, evidence-based narrative of the rest of the account. We’ll never know why Judas decided to betray Jesus, though some have speculated that Judas was a Zealot, someone who wanted a revolution to overthrow the Roman authorities. However, as one of Jesus’ disciples, Judas was aware of previous attempts to arrest or kill Jesus and decided to collude with the temple officials to help them achieve their aim. People collaborate for many reasons: the hope of reward or out of fear for their safety. However, as we see here in John’s gospel, and throughout history, collaboration is never the right option. It leads to division, punishment for the perpetrators, or later feelings of guilt and remorse.
Next we see Peter’s response of fighting back against the injustice he saw. There are many accounts in the gospels that show Peter as an emotional and impulsive man: jumping out of the boat to walk on water; wanting to build shelters for Moses, Elijah and Jesus on the mountain; or telling Jesus that his crucifixion will never happen. In this passage, we see more impulsive behaviour from Peter. John records it in v10: ‘Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)’ Peter doesn’t attack a soldier or a temple official; he attacks a servant. This fact, together with the fact that he only succeeds in cutting off an ear (which Jesus heals, as Luke records in ch22 v51), probably saves Peter from being arrested alongside Jesus, or killed on the spot. Maybe his high emotion gave him poor aim, maybe the servant moved when he saw Peter lash out with his sword. Whatever the circumstances, Peter’s impulsive actions could have had far greater consequences than the temporary loss of an ear. Jesus’ healing action and his words to Peter diffuse the situation but also show Peter that he is, once again, out of step with Jesus. We see in v11: ‘Jesus commanded Peter, ‘Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?’’
When we see injustice being done, it makes us angry. Anger, coupled with an impulsive nature can lead to rash action in fighting back against that injustice, such as Peter has demonstrated. However, as we see in this account of Jesus’ arrest, fighting back does not prevent injustice from occurring, and may even make a situation even worse. That isn’t to say that we should not fight injustice, rather that any response we make against it should be calm, measured and considered. Isaiah and Amos in the Old Testament spoke up on behalf of poor and marginalised people in society, who had no voice of their own, or were excluded. The Torah, the Jewish law books in Scripture, commands that justice should be unconditional and that there should not be different laws for different groups of people. There are many examples too, of commands to look after those who have no means to look after themselves: sick people, widows and orphans, prisoners, poor people. What we see in these examples is a mixture of a means of preventing injustice, through inclusion and correct application of the law, and correcting injustice through care and compassion for those who have been shown none.
We come now to the other disciples. There is not much specific mention of them in this passage. We know that they arrived with Jesus, having walked with him to the garden. The next mention of them is in v8. Jesus, in his response to the officials, says ‘If you are looking for me, then let these men go.’ Perhaps the disciples left the garden at this point, as Jesus predicted they would in ch16 v32: ‘A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone.’ Indeed, other gospel accounts specifically mention this. Mark 14: 50 records: ‘Then everyone deserted him and fled.’ Matthew 26: 56 also reports the disciples leaving Jesus. The word ‘fled’ suggests fear, a natural reaction to an armed mob. The disciples probably feared for their own safety, perhaps expecting to also be arrested. This seems increasingly likely when we remember that many of them remained indoors with the door locked until after Jesus rose from the dead. Having seen Jesus arrested, the disciples must have expected the authorities to return for them.
Fear is a common reaction to injustice, particularly violent injustice. When we read stories from Open Doors of our brothers and sisters facing persecution, we see the reality of the fear of being discovered by the authorities. It is understandable that many churches meet only in secret and that Bibles are smuggled in covertly. Yet, despite the secrecy, many Christians facing persecution stand boldly because of their hope in the Lord Jesus. They may suffer and die, but through his death and resurrection, they are assured freedom and a joyous welcome in heaven. When we’re faced with seemingly impossible circumstances, we too can remember that injustice is temporary but God’s love and our salvation through Jesus is eternal.
Finally, let’s look at Jesus’ own response to the injustice against him. Each thing he did points to two things: that as God the Son, he was fully in control of his destiny and that as the human Jesus, he remained fully obedient to his Father’s will. Firstly, we see an example of his control over the situation. In v5, he identified himself to the officials. They told him they were looking for Jesus of Nazareth and he responded ‘I am he.’ We’re told further in v6 that ‘they drew back and fell to the ground.’ This was not an act of worship, but a reaction to Jesus’ majesty as he uses the name of God (I AM) to identify himself. When Jesus spoke again, as we’ve already heard, telling the soldiers to allow the disciples to leave, this too, shows the control he has over the situation. He commands the people arresting him. However, this action of Jesus also has another purpose, which is the fulfilment of prophecies. John, in his gospel, is meticulous in pointing these out and does so again in v9: ‘This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”’ These words Jesus spoke in John 6:39. We also see Jesus’ obedience to the Father in action in his words to Peter in v11: ‘Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?’ Having struggled to accept this cup as he prayed in the previous chapter, Jesus is now firm in his resolve that God’s will be done.
This is not passivity on the part of Jesus. He isn’t giving in to the authorities. He isn’t fearful of them. Jesus is determined to see the fulfilment of the Father’s plan to redeem humanity through his death and resurrection. Earlier, his humanity and divinity were seemingly in conflict as he struggled to reconcile the suffering he knew he would endure with the necessity of his obedience for the plan to succeed. Now though he has summoned the strength he needs to endure what is to come and to die as he lived, in loving obedience to the Father, and with love and compassion for others, as we will see as the Passion narrative unfolds.
A final word about injustice: I have used the word throughout to describe Jesus’ arrest and subsequent suffering. However, there is no indication that Jesus considered it as such himself. Indeed, whenever Jesus speaks of his suffering, he says it will be for the glory of God and the means by which he returns to the Father having accomplished the saving work the Father has given him. Let us remember then to give God the glory for sending Jesus to us and for his saving work.