Continuing our simple Sunday reflections in the Gospel of Mark and the events in the Garden of Gethsemene.
This is a dramatic scene, full of pathos and utterly believable in its simultaneous tawdriness. It brings to mind a phrase I heard somewhere on ‘the banality of evil’.
An armed group are led by Judas under cover of darkness to Gethsemene. It is significant that they are sent by the three named strands of Jewish leadership – presumably with the authority and knowledge of the Sanhedrin. Israel has decisively rejected its Messiah; Judas is doing as Jesus predicted – and through their actions the Scriptures are being fulfilled.
The group have probably little idea of who Jesus is or why he is to be arrested. Jesus challenges the courage and legitimacy of their actions. Just as much today as then, the powerful want to keep suppression of their enemies well hidden from view.
Judas’ betrayal and Israel’s rejection raise deep questions around God’s election and human choice. The text simply states the facts but does not explain them. Israel and Judas are responsible for their actions, but their actions fit within the salvific purposes of God.
What do you make of this? (a small question I know!)
Jesus’ rhetorical question is an extraordinarily important one, especially in light of later church history.
It explicitly distances his mission, life and teaching on the kingdom of God from the use of violence. (In John’s account, Jesus heals the man’s severed ear and Peter’s use of the sword is rejected). The mission of the Messiah will not be achieved through coercion, threat, or political or military power.
And this means that followers of Jesus must follow the same path.
What challenges to you see for the contemporary church here?
43Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders.
44 Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” 45 Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. 46 The men seized Jesus and arrested him. 47 Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.
48 “Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? 49 Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.”