TXAB: The Christ Almighty Blog

17 March 2016

Jesus’s arrest: His abuse begins.

He went peacefully. His followers and accusers, as usual, had other ideas.

Mark 14.45-52 • Matthew 26.50-56 • Luke 22.49-54 • John 18.4-12

The second station, in John Paul’s list of stations of the cross, is where Judas betrayed Jesus and Jesus was arrested. Same station for both. But different forms of suffering: Judas was about when your friends or confidants turn on you, and the rest was about the pain and dread people feel when their enemies have ’em right where they want ’em.

Let’s go to the gospels.

Mark 14.45-52 KWL
45 Immediately going to Jesus, he told him, “Rabbi!” and kissed him hello.
46 So they grabbed and arrested him.
47 One of the bystanders, pulling out a machete,
struck the head priest’s slave, and cut off his ear.
48 In reply, Jesus told them, “You come out with machetes and sticks
to snatch me away, like I’m an insurgent.
49 Daytime, I was with you in the temple, teaching. You didn’t arrest me then.
But this—it’ll fulfill the scriptures.”
50 Abandoning Jesus, everyone fled.
51 There was some teenager following him who was naked, wearing a toga.
They arrested him, 52 but he abandoned his toga and fled naked.
Matthew 26.50-56 KWL
50 Jesus told Judas, “Who’d you come for, lad?”
Then those who’d come, grabbed Jesus and arrested him.
51 Look, one of Jesus’s followers stretched out his hand, drew his machete,
struck the head priest’s slave, and cut off his ear.
52 Then Jesus told him, “Put your machete back where it goes:
Everybody who takes up arms will be destroyed by them.
53 You think I can’t call my Father, who’ll immediately give me more than 12 legions of angels?
54 But then how will the scriptures be fulfilled? So this has to happen.”
55 At that time, Jesus told the crowd, “You come out with machetes and sticks
to snatch me away, like I’m an insurgent.
Daytime, I was sitting in the temple, teaching. You didn’t arrest me then.
56 This is all happening so the prophets’ writings can be fulfilled.”
Then all the students abandoned him and ran.
Luke 22.49-54 KWL
49 Seeing what those round them intended to do,
the students said, “Master, should we strike with a machete?”
50 One hit a certain one of them—the head priest’s slave—and cut off his right ear.
51 In response Jesus said, “That’s enough!” and touching the ear, Jesus healed him.
52 Jesus told those who came for him—head priests, temple guards, and elders—
“You come out with machetes and sticks like I’m an insurgent.
53 Daytime, I was with you in the temple. You didn’t grab me then.
But this is your hour—the power of darkness.”
54 They arrested him, led him away, and brought him to the head priest’s house.
Simon Peter was following at a distance.
John 18.4-12 KWL
4 Jesus, who’d known everything that was coming to him,
came forward and told them, “Whom are you seeking?”
5 They replied, “Jesus the Nazarene.”
He told them, “I’m him.”
Judas, who was turning him in, stood with them.
6 When Jesus told them, “I’m him,” they went backward and fell to the ground.
7 So he asked them again, “Whom are you seeking?”
They said, “Jesus the Nazarene.”
8 Jesus replied, “I tell you, I’m him.
So if you’re seeking me, let these others go away.”
9 Thus fulfilling his word which said,
“Those you gave me: I lost none of them.” Jn 17.12
10 Simon Peter, having a machete, drew it and struck the head priest’s slave;
he sliced off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus.
11 So Jesus told Peter, “Sheath your machete.
This is the cup the Father gave me. Shouldn’t I drink it?”
12 So the 200 men, the general, and the Judean servants arrested Jesus and tied him up.

Jesus, still in command.

John shows it a little better than the other gospels: Jesus was always in control, in command, had the final decision, as to whether he’d be taken by the posse sent to get him.

When they announced they’d come for Jesus the Nazarene (KJV “Jesus of Nazareth”) and he responded, “I’m him,” all 200 of them fell over. Certain translations render Jesus’s response as “I AM he”—not because Jesus stressed the word am (really the Greek word eími), but to remind us God told Moses his name is Ehyéh-Ashér-Ehyéh/“I AM WHO I AM.” Ex 3.14 The Hebrews might want a name so they could identify which god Moses represented—and describe just how powerful (or how limited) this god was. By giving himself a name which means, “I’m whatever I decide I am,” God declared to them he considers himself unlimited. Which he is. And various commentators figure Jesus, throughout John, was deciding he was all sorts of things, which is why they translate his various metaphors thus: “I AM the living bread. I AM the vine and you the branches. I AM the resurrection and the life. I AM the good shepherd. I AM the way, truth, and life.” These, they figure, were declarations of divinity.

Me, I have my doubts. We use the verb eími/“be” as a copula, a word which links the subject to an adjective or identifier. (“I’m sticky,” “I’m itchy,” “I’m sleepy,” “I’m your Daddy,” and so forth.) Every time Jesus used the verb, he wasn’t necessarily declaring God’s character. Nor evoking his name. But this passage does make a pretty good case for him doing so here. It did knock the mob over.

In the other gospels, Jesus was a bit nervous and panicky, but his prayer in Gethsemane had got his emotions under control. His students are another story: Despite his instructions, they hadn’t prayed lest they fall into temptation and run amok with emotion; they totally ran on emotion. Violently so, ’cause one of ’em had a mákhaira/“machete.” Regularly it’s translated “sword,” but it’s really just a long, broad, single-edged work-knife.

This student took this machete to one of the head priest’s slaves. John identifies the perp as Simon Peter and the victim as Malchus; Luke says Jesus not only ordered him to stop, but immediately healed Malchus. And Matthew includes Jesus’s “live by the sword, die by the sword” speech: Violence begets violence, and while we may think we’re doling out righteous justice, we’re simply giving our enemies the excuse they desire to smite us back.

At the same time, Jesus pointed out the Father had authorized him to put a stop to everything if he saw fit. Let that idea sink in. At any time Jesus could call down “more than 12 legions of angels,” Mt 26.53 a legion being a company of 60 centuries: 6,000 troops. One angel could flatten a nation, as the death-angel had done to Egypt. Twelve legions could conquer the world. Siccing them on the world would turn Jesus into exactly the sort of Messiah the Pharisees and the devil wanted. That’s why Jesus didn’t wanna call upon them. It was no sin to put his passion on pause, and try again another time. But “then how will the scriptures be fulfilled?” Jesus pointed out. Mt 26.54 He had to fulfill them sometime. May as well be now.

Jesus’s rebuke to the mob.

The synoptic gospels include Jesus’s statement to the mob, which starts the same way: “You come out with machetes and sticks like I’m an insurgent.” Lk 22.52 It’s to point out their cowardice: What had Jesus ever done to merit a posse of 200 armed men? (Well, other than knock over a few tables in temple.) They could’ve arrested him at any time in temple; why in the middle of the night?

Simple: A number of the public (correctly) thought he was Messiah. Had anyone tried to arrest him in public, there’d have been a riot. Followed by Pilate sending in his riot-busting goons, followed by crucifixions until everyone who disturbed the peace were dead. Romans didn’t care who started it; they just wanted peace. That’s why Jesus being Messiah startled the Judean leaders: If his followers started a revolution, either the Romans would win, and kill them indiscriminately (as, it turns out, they did indeed do 37 years later), or the insurgents would win, and kill them as Roman stooges. Heads they lose, tails they lose, and they figured the lesser of two evils was to be rid of Jesus.

So while the public was asleep, where there were few witnesses to see it, they nabbed him. As Luke describes Jesus saying, “This is your hour, and the power of darkness.” Lk 22.53 But Mark and Matthew have him notice how their act helped fulfill the scriptures. His interpretation of the Prophets, not theirs, was correct, and they unwittingly helped him prove it.

Jesus’s physical suffering begins in earnest.

In the United States, when white people are arrested, they’re meant to be treated as innocent till proven guilty at their trial. Obviously it doesn’t always work this way in real life. The police are usually quite sure they’ve got the right guy. While the laws remind the cops to be civil to those they have in custody, sometimes they’re not. Often they’re just discourteous and ungracious. Sometimes they’re rough and abusive. Sometimes they’re quick with the taser or pepper spray, or they panic and open fire.

In other nations and cultures, suspects are guilty till proven innocent, and treated as convicts till proven otherwise. That’s precisely the culture Jesus was in. The mob figured they captured a dangerous heretic, someone God would want dead. They were quite happy to make it awful for Jesus all the way to his death. They were rough on him. Ropes too tight, punching and hitting and jabbing to keep him marching the direction they wanted, spitting and slapping and poking and insults all the way. Isaiah prophesied they’d yank at his beard; Is 50.6 though the gospels never say this was fulfilled, I wouldn’t be surprised if they ripped out chunks.

The rest of Jesus’s life was spent in pain.