Interventions: The Drawing of A Sword, the Healing of an Ear

“While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, “Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?” When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, “Lord, should we strike with the sword?” Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders who had come for him, “Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!”” (Luke 22:47-53 NRSV)

Here are some questions we worked through together before the sermon:

  • What are the first impressions you have from this passage? What stands out to you as most important?
  • What are the contrasts you see here?
  • What are the interventions in this text? Who is intervening and how, why are they doing it?
  • What are the movements in this text?

Luke 22:47-53 is about these two versions of reality: the drawing of a Sword and the healing of an ear.

[During the beginning of the sermon I had a volunteer come up and gave him a sword. He drew the sword as to cut off my ear. Then I had him put the sword down and asked him to act as though he were Jesus and heal my ear. The interesting thing about acting this out is that the two bodily gestures or movements were clear and distinct. One was done at a distance and had an object (a weapon meant to maim) that confirmed and controlled that distance between two people. The other action was one where he had to draw close, and physically touch my ear with his hand. One movement was of self-protection, violence and done at a distance, the other was a movement of compassion, nearness and involved physical touch.]

Everything in Luke has built up to this point. John Howard Yoder says that everything from chapter 19:47-22 “reflects in some way the confrontation of two social systems and Jesus’ rejection of the status quo.”

There are these two  contrasting ways of approaching the world. They are the distance (And violence) of drawing the sword and the nearness (And compassion) of healing the ear.

My guess is that in our text this morning (at least) two ways of approach all of reality are presenting. This is represented by the various interventions we have in the text. But if we can be really simplistic, I would lump Judas, the soldiers and the high priest, and even the disciples drawing the sword together. They are all there for their own purposes, they are there to protect either the status quo (of Rome, of the Temple), or like Judas or even the one drawing the sword, maybe they’re there selfishly.

This first group is there and ready to offer force, or violence if necessary. This first group represents in my view those who are looking out for themselves, those who operate out of a place of protection and safety, those who rely on violence to make things right, those who keep others, those unlike them, at a distance.

Then of course, Jesus represents the other side of this, this other group. He is the one who offers hospitality amidst the chaos. This is a scene where we see Jesus practice what he preached, he offers love of enemy when he heals the ear of the slave of the High Priest (who was most likely more than just a slave, but rather the person in charge of commanding the posse).

On the one hand there is misunderstanding about who Jesus was and what he was doing and this misunderstanding in turn is played out in violence – represented by the posse and Judas, but most importantly, the disciple who drew the sword. On the other hand, there is the rebuke from Jesus to the disciple “Enough of that!” and drawing near, a healing touch and the ear is repaired. Jesus then goes on to voluntarily give himself up.

I want to suggest this morning that these are two paths for the Christian life, and quite frankly these are even two paths for all of reality. And that only one of these paths gives birth to the church. In other words, what would have happened had Jesus succumbed to the temptation of drawing the sword and fitting back (as a number of commentators suggest was his key temptation in the garden?). What if he had drawn the sword along with his disciple? If this is the climax of the clash, it is the final moment of choice for Jesus, will he take the way of the sword, or the way of the cross (which is the path of love of enemy)?

It’s hard to know how that would have turned out but my guess is that it would have turned out badly. There may be no church at all.

It’s in the act of compassion, the drawing near and the healing of the ear, the voluntary arrest, and the subsequent events both on Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday that lead to the birth of the church.

In this garden scene there were two choices. One was the human way, one was rooted in what we’ve been calling the logic of the world. The other way, the way Jesus actually chose was the way of the poetics of the kingdom. One was power, one was powerlessness. And only one of these ways is the birth-mother of the church. Had he chosen the other way, Christianity, if it would exist at all, would be radically different.

Because this is the path that created the church, these very acts, the drawing near, the compassion, the healing of the ear, the voluntary surrender of one of our own lives for those who have not yet found God’s forgiveness, are the very acts inscribed into the church or what we should consider the alternative society of our faith community.

That is, these are some of the essential acts that form the church.

Now let’s try to bring this down to earth a bit more. What does this mean for us at Camas Friends?

A) Well first is the confession that we all have at times operated out of both these realities. But the crux is which one of these do we operate out of?

B) This second way, the way of Jesus’ compassion and peace, the embodiment of his teaching even in hostile times requires serious formation. John H. Yoder calls this “Exceptional normal quality of humanness to which the community is committed.” The quote goes:

The alternative characteristics of this community of disciples Jesus founded was: “a visible structure of fellowship, a sober decision guaranteeing that the cost of commitment to the fellowship have been consciously accepted, and a clearly defined life-style distinct from that of the crowd. This life style is different, not because of arbitrary rules separating the believer’s behavior from that of “normal people,” but because of the exceptional normal quality of humanness to which the community is committed. The distinctness is not a cultic ritual separation, but rather a nonconformed quality of (“secular”) involvement in the life of the world. It thereby constitutes an unavoidable challenge to the powers that be and the beginning of a new set of social alternatives.”

This is the beginning of something alternative, something different from what we’ve seen before and in order to live this way, it requires formation and different qualities of life.

I like that in the previous passage of the garden there is the contrast between prayer and sleeping. Jesus prays and urges his disciples to pray, yet they sleep. It’s interesting to see which one is more prepared in the following passage when the arrest comes. Jesus was composed and present in the situation, able to provide a humanizing touch even to his enemy. While the other was agitated, off guard, and responded out of character with the teachings of Jesus.

Preparation for response that flows from one side rather than the other. In other words, one path Camas Friends can take in the coming days is one that remains at a distance, self-protection mode of existence, one that may try to enforce and even be coercive towards one another or outsiders (note: coercion isn’t necessarily force, it can be with words, body language, etc).

The other path looks to be prepared at every moment, be present within each moment, and be available to the risk involved in joining God’s kingdom. If we choose to take this route it is much harder, and will require that we will work together to be formed into people who can discern where God is already at work in our world. Where and how we can join that work is our big question. We will not thinking in limiting terms, why we can’t do this, or shouldn’t do that, because of our size, our budget, perceptions or what have you. If we are operating out of this second vision for reality, there is it does not look to limit but to respond. The question isn’t why should we do this or that, but how do we get it done faithfully.

This passage is very much about two visions, two realities. And I want to set before all of us this morning that we’re being called to form our mission, the very things we do, the very questions we ask, our outlook on what it means for us to be Quakers in Camas around this second pole of existence. (Yes we will stumble, we will struggle, but even as this disciple slipped, we can assume he too found forgiveness at the foot of the cross.)

Closing Prayer

Lord, though we call you Lord, we misunderstand your message with our own message.
Though we want to pray we sleep.
Though we want peace, we draw the sword.
Though we want to see your kingdom come, we give into the trials and temptations of finding all the reasons why it won’t work in our world.

Help us have the faith to trust even in the midst of betrayal, arrest, and being small in number.

Published by

Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

One thought on “Interventions: The Drawing of A Sword, the Healing of an Ear”

  1. I forget where I got this quote, it might be Yoder or Merton, but it goes something like…"when Jesus sheathed the sword in the garden he sheathed it for all of time." I like how you present both "approaches" as modes in which we choose from on a daily basis and that it is out of our prayers and commitment that we are able to let go of self-protection and violence so that we are free to come close and provide "hospitality in the midst of chaos."

    I recently attended the Moltmann "conversation" put on by Emergent Village. Some panelists would present Moltmann with a number of different names and each time Moltmann would respond with his thoughts. When the panelist offered Stanley Hauerwas as one of the names Moltmann responded with, again, something like, "We are not working for a peacable kingdom, no, we are told to be peace-makers." To me this tongue-in-cheek critique offered some insight on what the kingdom of God is made of, i.e., the goal is not a utopian fantasy, rather, in the midst of chaos the message of Christ is to offer peace. Your post spoke to these thoughts. thanks.

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