September 19, 2007
One of the many stories that could be mentioned in this regard comes at the end of the Gospel of Matthew. Just before Jesus was capitally punished by the Roman Empire, he gave his followers an unequivocal lesson about violence that we can ill afford to ignore today.
When the authorities came to arrest Jesus, the apostle Peter did what most of us would do under similar circumstances. He drew his sword in defense of the life of his friend and teacher — who he also believed was the Son of God — and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his ear.
For Christians still wedded to the just war theory, a more “just cause” for the use of violence in all of history is hard to imagine.
Jesus responded, however, not with approval, but by emphasizing once again the centrality of love, even for the enemy, to his teachings. He rebuked Peter, saying: “Put your sword back in its sheath, for all who take the sword shall perish by the sword.”
The key word there is “all.” Jesus was not only condemning Peter’s violence in that moment some two thousand years ago, but explicitly issuing a warning to anyone, anywhere who chooses violence.
This story should make Christians in this country uncomfortable, because no other nation is currently taking up the sword with more zeal or recklessly wielding it around the world than our own.