The subjects of war and peace seem to be ever relevant, and in the run up to Easter it is interesting to look at Jesus' approach to these matters. Please read {bible}Matthew 26, verses 47-56{/bible}.

 

In this passage we see Jesus make the most difficult of decisions: to hand himself over to those totally opposed to what he stood for. It cannot have been easy. Jesus knew what the consequences would be, and at any time he could have avoided this. He was God's Son: he could do anything with that power. But some kind of superhero escape would not have brought about the supreme act of love and sacrifice that God had in mind.

In contrast to Jesus' approach, it is interesting to note that at least one disciple had come equipped with a sword. This reminds us that the disciples came from different walks of life and perspectives. Among their number were those with Zealot tendencies, who saw military action in the name of religion as justifiable. Perhaps others had been alarmed by the turn of events when Jesus entered the temple, and confronted the money- changers and traders, so were determined to protect themselves and Jesus. Maybe Jesus' talk of impending death had brought a determination to avoid this, or had reinforced the idea that the time for a showdown with the authorities was at hand.

Whatever the case it is clear that Jesus had no intention of using brute force to prevail. He understood where his disciples were coming from, but knew that God had different ideas.

The reading above may also be contrasted with {bible}Matthew 5 verse 9{/bible} ("Happy are those who work for peace; God will call them his children.") and verses 43 - 48; also {bible}Luke 22 verses 36 - 8{/bible}. In the verses from Matthew there is a clear exhortation to using peaceful methods, whilst in Luke, Jesus seems to suggest that arms are required, an idea that he immediately seems to contradict. So is the message contradictory? Is nonviolence the only way? Some Christians believe passionately that the latter is the case. Many others see it as being necessary to stand up to injustice and aggression, using force as a last resort: the bully should not be allowed to win, except that we need to be careful as to who is in the bully role!

Certainly the course of non-violent resistance should not be dismissed. Nor does it mean accepting that the other side is right. Jesus did not use force to resist the authorities, but he certainly did not accept what they said, before or after his capture and trial, because in the end what he stood for, God's Will, could not be compromised. Likewise, for us, avoiding using force does not mean "going with the flow". The passage from {bible}Luke 22 v.36{/bible} is not contradictory since Jesus was foretelling the times of difficulty that would be coming for himself, and for those who followed him, and the need to hold onto their Faith and stand up for their Lord. In this sense the sword is more figurative than actual, with truth, the Word of God, as the sword, an allegory that Paul uses in his letter to the {bible}Ephesians (6:17){/bible}. Jesus was quick to correct his disciples ({bible}Luke 22v.3 8{/bible}) when they took him literally.

It is a truth that more can be accomplished by words and positive action than by sheer brute force. Perhaps it is not surprising that some contemporary military commanders and politicians are talking of the need to win hearts and minds to secure peace. We can all do well to remember the story of the Spanish Conquistadores who took a fortified Indian town in the Americas. Through brutal actions they endeavoured to convert the local populace to Christianity. Superficially they seemed to succeed, but it was not a lasting result once the conquerors moved on to their next campaign, because an example of violence did not encourage the population to follow Christ sincerely. Years later a single missionary entered the town armed only with a Bible, and through his words and actions he converted them all!

Chris Noyce

This is the last of a series of articles based on materials produced for the URC's Bible Year, although they have been rewritten for use at Isaac Watts, sometimes very extensively. The original materials can be found at www.vision4life.org.uk, for which credit goes to the Vision4life steering group (including ideas from Diana Townsend, Peter Henderson, and anon!).

 

CN