As another nation, this time Belgium, faces the aftermath of terrorism and its clarion call of hatred, the message of Holy Thursday and the need for Christ becomes ever more apparent. After Our Lord instituted the Holy Eucharist to be food for the Church, He went out to pray and submitted to the will of the Father. It was then in the darkness of night that Our Lord was betrayed and arrested:
While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived, accompanied by a large crowd, with swords and clubs, who had come from the chief priests and the elders of the people. His betrayer had arranged a sign with them, saying, “The man I shall kiss is the one; arrest him.” Immediately he went over to Jesus and said, “Hail, Rabbi!” and he kissed him. Jesus answered him, “Friend, do what you have come for.” Then stepping forward they laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. And behold, one of those who accompanied Jesus put his hand to his sword, drew it, and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels? But then how would the scriptures be fulfilled which say that it must come to pass in this way?” At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to seize me? Day after day I sat teaching in the temple area, yet you did not arrest me. But all this has come to pass that the writings of the prophets may be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled.
This passage is filled with the sinful inclinations of human beings. Judas demonstrates greed and how easily people can cast aside one another for material gain. Of course, we know this does not end well for Judas. He does not find fulfillment in the money he desired for his betrayal and he hangs himself in despair.
What is interesting about this scene in the Garden is the human desire for violence. Jesus spent much of His time in the latter part of Matthew’s Gospel explaining to His Apostles the true mission of the Messiah-King and what the Kingdom of God looks like. They needed to abandon nationalism and worldly power for the true Kingdom. It is a Kingdom of self-emptying and sacrificial love with a throne of the Cross, not a Kingdom of stone and power to rule over Israel’s enemies by force. The Kingdom of God is radical and opposed to the sinful inclinations of men. It requires conversion of heart through grace. Christ came to conquer Israel’s and the world’s true enemies: sin, death, and Satan.
It is our tendency when faced with a lack of power to attempt to regain control. It may be through words, actions, or violence in which we try to overcome a situation. As Jesus is arrested one of His companions, St. John’s Gospel tells us St. Peter, cuts off the ear of the high priest’s servant. St. Peter’s immediate response is to counter the violence of Jesus’ arrest with more violence. Jesus rebukes Peter and heals the servant’s ear. Jesus’ words here are not a condemnation of the just use of force, rather, he is condemning those who use violence to gain power and control. He is condemning the need for vengeance. Peter still does not fully understand the Kingdom of God or the necessity of the Crucifixion. He couldn’t fully understand these events until the Glorified Christ sent His Spirit and the Paschal Mystery could be seen as the triumph over sin and death.
This event in Our Lord’s life has much to teach us in our own lives. Upon hearing of the latest terrorist attacks in Brussels, I read a couple of news reports on the events and prayed for the dead, injured, grieving, and the terrorists themselves. These terrorists are men and women who “live by the sword” and who need the mercy and forgiveness of God, but so do we as the victims of terrorism. Unfortunately, the number of terrorism victims continues to grow at an alarming rate worldwide. I made the mistake of reading a few comments in the comboxes of the articles I read. I don’t recommend reading comment sections in order to maintain your sanity. Unfortunately, the response has largely been one of vengeance or even politically motivated violence. It isn’t that we cannot respond justly, through force if necessary, but it can never be born of vengeance for that is not justice. In His arrest, trial, and Crucifixion, Our Lord always stands His ground, but He does so firmly rooted in the filial love of the Father. Our reactions to violence and injustice in the world must also be grounded in the Trinitarian love. Vengeance begets vengeance and the cycle continues as it has throughout the ages until we stop the cycle. Our Lord steps into history to interrupt and heal this cycle. He shows us the way out of sin and violence.
The Kingdom of God is not a militaristic or worldly power. It is the call within each one of us to conform our lives to Christ in self-emptying love and sacrifice for others in a life of communion with His Church. It is to live by the Spirit and to help bring the world into conformation with the Most Holy Trinity. The first response to violence must be prayer. We must pray for our enemies and for their conversion. If we react, as St. Peter did, with immediate recourse to violence or vengeance then we break off communication completely and further the destructive cycle of sin. St. Peter understood this later on as He went to his own martyrdom.
This does not only apply in cases of brutal violence. It applies in our own daily lives. It means we cannot respond to others with an immediate need to retaliate. Even though we are hurt repeatedly by others throughout our lifetime we must foster the patience and charity demonstrated by Our Lord. Words can be soul crushing and we can never take back something said in anger. This is a life-long task and may be more difficult for some personalities, but it is necessary on the path to holiness.
As we look to the events of Holy Thursday and Good Friday, we must pray for the strength and grace to overcome a sinful need for control and vengeance. As we see the images coming out of Brussels, we must pray for all involved and the conversion of souls. The best response to terrorism must be born of prudence, charity, and justice, not a need to get even. Our Lord teaches us that we must stop cycles of violence by using prudent responses to violent acts, whether it be through radical non-violence or just war. We must examine ourselves and look to the situations in our own lives that need a response born out of our Christian vocation, rather than our sinful desire for vengeance. Let us pray that the Paschal Mystery we celebrate this week may touch the lives of all peoples and that the “peace which surpasses all understanding” may reign in our hearts.