Betrayed By a Kiss

Brian Zahnd: Betrayed By a Kiss

What was Judas trying to do and why did he betray Jesus with a kiss? Was Judas trying to force Jesus’ hand — trying to push him out of his Sermon on the Mount ethics of enemy-love? Was Judas was trying to force Jesus to resort to violence and start the war for Jewish independence? I think so. The reason Judas greeted Jesus with the customary kiss (which was also a covert sign), is that Judas didn’t so much want to betray Jesus as he wanted manipulate Jesus. Judas wanted to manipulate Jesus into launching a violent revolution. Judas wanted to remain a part of the inner-circle of disciples following a now violent Jesus. Judas acted like he was still a faithful disciple, because Judas wanted to be a faithful disciple — but only on his own terms. Judas didn’t want to betray Jesus, he wanted to control Jesus. Judas wanted Jesus to be Messiah in a certain way: Violent.

So what does it mean to betray Jesus with a kiss? It means trying to manipulate Jesus to our way of thinking. It means trying to control Jesus for our own agenda. When we try to get Jesus to step outside of his own ethics of enemy-love in order to fight our battles, wage our wars, and kill our enemies, we have betrayed Jesus. Of course we do it while claiming to love Jesus as our Lord and Savior. In other words, we betray Jesus…with a kiss.

I meant to link to this weeks ago. While I confess that brother Zahnd makes a couple of educated suppositions in this article, I think he nails what made it so hard for so many first century Jews to accept Jesus as Savior. They were looking for something else. Too often, we also try to cast God in our own image while claiming piety and devotion. We cannot let our own interests, opinions, or fears make us try to mold Jesus into something other than what He is. When we do so, we betray Him.

What U.S. Christians Miss About North — and South — Korea

Sojourners: What U.S. Christians Miss About North — and South — Korea

Sitting on the 28th floor of the Lotte Hotel World in downtown Seoul having breakfast with a long-time ecumenical friend from Korea, I asked him what the churches in his country were thinking about the present crisis. He immediately responded, “We’re asking, ‘What are the churches in America thinking?’”

•••

Two realities here in South Korea seem unknown or underappreciated in the U.S. First is the fact that the Korean War has not ended. There’s no treaty, and no permanently recognized peace — only an agreement 60 years ago to cease actual hostilities. Traveling through layers of security to Panmunjom, where the armistice was signed, and where North Korean and U. N. forces (mostly South Korean) still wordlessly face one another, brings home this truth. Formally, there is no peace.

Second, for some Koreans, reunification is an earnest hope. In the U.S. we simply assume there are two countries — North Korea and South Korea, end of story. But countless times here I’ve heard prayers and hopes for reunification, some time, in some way. And those prayers come from Christian communities across South Korea. It’s hard to answer how reunification would be peaceably achieved, but that doesn’t diminish hope. Being here, I’m reminded that Korea has been one culture, with one people, and one land for most of its history. The DMZ is an artificial demarcation, similar to the former divisions of Germany and of Vietnam.

We Christians should be careful about hurrying to shed blood through war. While the actions of Kim Jong-un may be unjustifiable, we should all remember the sheer number of innocent souls that will simply be counted as “collateral damage” should we allow his posturing to abandon the Prince of Peace.

Laying Down Our Swords

verrière de la Passion du Christ. Saint-Pierre tranchant l'oreille de Malchus. Illustrates Peter drawing his sword in the garden.

Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

John 18:10 – 11

And when those who were around Him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him.

Luke 22:49 – 51

And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”

Matthew 26:51 – 54

Two Swords and the Apostles

Every gospel gives account that one of the apostles, identified as Peter in the gospel of John, attacks with a sword one of those who comes to seize Jesus. Each account save one also records Jesus rebuking Peter for his actions, and two record Jesus healing Peter’s victim. Here, Peter is fulfilling his promise from Matthew 26:35, expressing his willingness to die beside Jesus; but the problem is that Peter isn’t really willing to die for Christ here. He’s willing to kill, which is something far different.

In Luke 22:35 – 38, Jesus tells his apostles that a time will come where they will want to gather supplies, collect their savings, and arm themselves. He says this in contrast to how they had previously gone to evangelize Jesus with no defenses or supplies. At that time, they trusted in Jesus. Here, He foretells that they will lose their trust in Him and again trust in the things of this world. This would come true that very night.

After Jesus says these things to them, the apostles point out two swords, to which Jesus replies, “It is enough,” or, “That’s enough!” depending on translation. There are a lot of takes on what Jesus means here; whether He approves of them taking the swords, or He says it sarcastically since two swords would clearly not be enough for all of them, or it is an expression that the matter is closed. I lean toward the latter, for it seems that this is yet another occasion where Jesus is trying to show them something deeper about events to come, and they just don’t get it.

The Sword in the Garden

However Jesus meant this final phrase before departing for the garden, at least one of those swords come along, carried by Peter. Peter carries the sword; unsheathes the sword; uses the sword; and Jesus rebukes him for it. John and Luke record very short reprimands, basically telling Peter to stand down and let Jesus fulfill prophecy. Matthew contains a longer rebuke, with Jesus telling Peter that those who live by the sword shall also die by it, and that He is more than capable of calling down legions of angels to defend Him if He really needed it.

The second century theologian Tertullian had this to say about the account:

For albeit soldiers had come unto John, and had received the formula of their rule; albeit, likewise, a centurion had believed; still the Lord afterward, in disarming Peter, unbelted every soldier. No dress is lawful among us, if assigned to any unlawful action.

Tertullian asserts (rightly, I believe) that Jesus’s words to Peter affect us all; that, like Peter, we are also to lay down violence as a tool and choose a different way. Peter brought a sword into the garden so that Jesus could teach him, and us through him, what it is to reject violence as a method of defending Christ or His kingdom.

But the Conquest of Canaan…

How do we reconcile this with the bloodshed of the Old Testament? God established Israel by force; He defended Israel by force; and, when necessary, He punished Israel by force. David, a man after God’s own heart, slew numerous enemies (yet, according to I Chronicles 28:3, David would not build the temple because of the blood on his hands). So how does God defending His kingdom by physical violence in the Old Testament translate to the new kingdom of the church being nonviolent in nature?

Several months ago, I wrote about the different laws contained in the Bible, how each is separate and distinct, and how keeping a statement or command in the context of the covenant in which it was given is important to harmonizing and understanding God’s word. Without rehashing that whole post here, I believe the differences between the Old Testament and New are intentional, and they show us a better way.

Hebrews 8:3 – 7 says this about the transition from old to new:

Every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant He mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.

The Hebrew writer calls the Old Covenant a “shadow of the heavenly things.” It’s not the reality; it’s a representation of reality. Christ is the reality, and He brings us a better way. He oversees a kingdom, not defined by geopolitical borders, ethnicity, or economics; rather His kingdom is a boundless spiritual kingdom. That means our warfare is not physical but instead spiritual.

Take Up a Spiritual Sword

Paul explains our conflict this way in Ephesians 6:12:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

He goes from here to describe the armor and defenses of God, and one of these defenses is indeed a sword. He calls it the Sword of the Spirit, which he defines as God’s word. That is our defense in our spiritual battles; that is where we place our trust rather than in physical weapons and strength. This is the lesson the apostles had a hard time comprehending, and this is where Peter failed in the garden. He trusted more in his sword than he did in God’s plan.

We need to learn the lesson of Peter. Christ’s church is not here to wage wars against other peoples. It is not here to be a superpower. It is not here to conquer lands. Instead, we are to wage war against sin and the death it brings; we are lifted up when we humble ourselves; and we conquer hearts and minds with the sword of truth. We do not take prisoners. Rather, we convert souls. As God’s people, we need to stop giving in to the allure of physical power and the violence it brings. Instead, we should lay down our swords and completely give our trust over to the Prince of Peace.

Yes, we should be willing to die for Christ, but we should never be willing to kill. The only death a Christian should be responsible for is death to self so that Christ can live in us.

Al Tirah

The text in this post is very similar to a post I wrote November 1, 2010. I recently revised it and presented it as a sermon at the congregation I attend. I present the lesson here in its entirety, along with the text I lifted from my previous post. Original lesson inspired by and Fear Monsters from altirausa.com.

What can separate us from our relationship with God? Immediately, most Christians would say, “Nothing,” and go on to cite passages like Romans 8:35-39, where Paul addresses persecuted Christians thusly:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We quote this. We’ll testify that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God, but do we really believe that? Do our lives – our attitudes and our conduct – betray otherwise? Does our fear of the things in this world lead us to act like we actually are concerned that those things Paul writes about really could separate us from God’s love?

 

We look around, and we see several things to fear – some are worthy while others are things we are taught and conditioned to fear by those who seek to benefit from our fears. We’re taught to fear the scary secular progressives who supposedly want to take our right to worship away. We’re taught to fear the scary Muslims who supposedly want to kill us all. We’re taught to fear scary authority figures who supposedly want to take all of our money. We’re taught to fear the scary New World Order that’s supposed to do…something scary. We’re taught to fear the scary immigrants who are supposedly up to something equally as scary. All of this is exacerbated by a fear-driven media we hungrily consume while forgetting the peace we should have in Christ. For, if we live in fear, we have no hope; we have no peace.

Fear in God’s Word

God repeatedly calls upon His people to “Al Tirah” several times in the Old Testament. That is, to “Fear not.” He does this over a hundred times. Some examples of God or one of His messengers telling His people not to fear include Genesis 15:1, Genesis 26:24, Genesis 50:19, Exodus 20:20, Deuteronomy 1:21, Deuteronomy 31:6, Joshua 8:1, Judges 6:10, I Samuel 12:20, Isaiah 41:13-14, and Daniel 10:12. The list could go on and on. As consistent as the message to “Be holy as I am holy” is this theme of God’s people trusting in Him and avoiding submission to base fears.

Fast forward to the New Testament, and we see Jesus and His disciples playing a similar tune about fear.

  • In Luke 12:4, Jesus says: “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do.”
  • Luke 12:32: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
  • Paul, in Romans 8:15: “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”
  • II Timothy 1:7: “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”
  • Hebrews 13:6: “So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’”
  • I Peter 3:14: “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled.”
  • I John 4:18: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”
  • Revelation 2:10, regarding coming persecutions: “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

Defined By Fear or Faith?

Again, this list could go on. This is not to say we will never experience fear. Even Paul admits to being afraid at times in II Corinthians 7:5. Rather, this is about what defines us. Despite his fears, Paul still lived a Christian life. He still spread the word. He did not let fear define his attitudes, actions, and outlooks. When we succumb to the fear-mongering marketed by cable news networks, by talk radio jocks, by political figures, then we are allowing un-Christlike influences into our hearts and minds. We become centered around secular concerns, and we begin behaving like Christ never took us from this world at all.

What are we allowing ourselves to be frightened by anyway? Revocation of our freedom of religion? How could we possibly have it worse than those First Century Christians? Last I checked, I haven’t been too worried about being used as a human torch or as lion food. If they could persevere under such religious persecution, surely we could do no worse if we are truly dedicated to God. Do we fear those who can take our money? Since when do Christians care about their treasures on Earth? Money can’t buy salvation. Do we fear those who may kill us? Again, Jesus said not to, for they can’t claim our souls. In the vast majority of cases, what we are taught to fear centers purely around our comforts and conveniences. We fear that being a Christian might one day be truly difficult. That true spiritual living is hard is the point of Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 10:34-39.

Put even more simply, if Christ could face the cross, we can face anything this life throws at us. We don’t have to let fear rule us.

A Personal Addendum

Now I’ve been criticized of being “naive,” “shallow,” “short-sighted,” “stupid,” “ignorant,” and a bunch of other things that basically amount to, “You contradict my favorite talking head,” because of this view. The argument usually descends to something like this: “Well, your mom had cancer, so you should know better than to discount small things that can lead to greater disasters,” or something like that. First, leave my mom out of this. Second, I HAD CANCER TOO, so, you know, you could go there. It would make more sense. It wouldn’t sway me (because such arguments are complete non sequiturs), but it would still almost be more compelling…if it wasn’t so non-compelling.

Cancer may have threatened my life, but it could not threaten my soul. It may have inexorably separated me from an internal organ, but it could not separate me from Christ. It may have made me physically weak, but it could not touch my strength in the Lord. Cancer may have reinforced my mortality, but it could not steal my immortality. Yes, it was difficult at the time, but my refuge in God was stronger. Likewise, no terrorist, political ideology, financial burden, or outside threat can take our hope in Christ. When we let those things insinuate themselves into our being we cease living as those with a hope in Christ, and we become no better than those who refused to enter the Promised Land in Numbers 13 because the inhabitants were big and scary.

Conclusion

We sometimes sing that our God is “Mighty to Save.” Do we really believe He is mighty and can protect us in the refuge of His love? We might be afraid at times, but, if we truly believe in His power and love, if we do truly believe He is mighty to save, we do not have to live in fear.

When news of wars and terrorism assail us, Al Tirah – fear not.

When natural disasters strike, Al Tirah – fear not.

When disease threatens our health and our families, Al Tirah – fear not.

When crime and violence touch our neighborhoods, Al Tirah – fear not.

When markets tumble, and banks collapse, Al Tirah – fear not.

When society seems destabilized and our lives seem chaotic, Al Tirah – fear not.

When our bank balances are low and the pantries are bare, Al Tirah – fear not.

When godlessness and immorality prevail in every corner, Al Tirah – fear not.

With that in our minds, let’s end where we began this lesson:

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

– Romans 8:37-39

Gandhi: Living Christ Without the Name

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is quite possibly the most well-known figure to come out of India in the last century. He was an advocate of non-violent civil disobedience, a champion to the poor and disenfranchised, and he sought to bring India out from under the influence of foreign domination. He is the type of patriot that few Americans know what to do with, for he was unwilling to raise arms to defend his countrymen. He protested quietly. He discouraged outward revolution, and he left an indelible mark on the cultural development of the Twentieth Century.

To some, he is among the greatest men who ever lived. To others, he was simply misguided and wrong in in his attempts at nonviolence. To a few, he is the Antichrist. He is praised by the Left. He is ridiculed by the Right, but I think Martin Luther King, Jr. perhaps has one of the best summations of Gandhi’s life and legacy:

“Christ gave us the goals and Mahatma Gandhi the tactics.”

Life Magazine: “Remembering Martin Luther King Jr. 40 Years Later.” Time Inc, 2008. Pg 12

A fellow Christian once made the observation that he felt Gandhi was perhaps the most Christ-like individual to walk on the face of the earth while never himself wearing the name of Christ. This was a man who, in his youth, was put off by the Christian missionaries who seemed more interested in converting Indians to British culture than anything, but, when hearing the Sermon on the Mount in Hindu, said to have delighted in the teachings of Christ. What can we learn from this gentle soul?

Forgiveness

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.

– “Interview to the Press,” published in Young India (April 1931)

Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven…

– Luke 6:37

Forgiveness is one of the basic foundations of Christianity, but too often we are like Peter in Matthew 18:21, looking for a reason to cut off our forgiveness. This quote by Gandhi was in context of a man judged worthy of the death penalty by his government, someone seen as a traitor. Would we be so kind? Forgiveness does indeed require strength, and Christ’s teachings make it clear that we are to be infinitely forgiving. It is a trait of our Father, and it should be a trait of ours too. It simply takes resolve and strength of character to realize that forgiveness is possible in all cases.

Nonvengeance

In the dictionary of Satyagraha, there is no enemy.

Non-Violence in Peace and War (1948)

You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

– Matthew 5:38-39

As a species, we feel we have purpose when our enmity has a target. We say sin is our enemy, but it is so much easier to personify that enemy in human faces, seeking vengeance for their wrongs. That is not the Christian way. Gandhi didn’t even vilify Hitler, instead trying to seek the good qualities in that man hated and feared by so many. If Gandhi could see glimpses of good even in Hitler, why can’t we see the good in a telemarketer; in the President; in a homeless person; in our neighbors? Are we really that hard up for enemies? Do we desire a target for our vengeance so badly? Instead, we should be striving to live peaceably with all, as Paul writes in Romans 12:18.

Nonviolence

Victory attained by violence is tantamount to a defeat, for it is momentary.

– Satyagraha Leaflet No. 13

Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”

– Matthew 26:52

The politicization of Christianity is evident in this: we have allowed faith and violence to intermingle in a way foreign to the New Testament. Yes, God used violence prior to the perfect covenant of His Son, but something changes in the New Testament. Where does Jesus take up arms to resist assailants? Where does Paul hurl stones back at those trying to kill him? Why doesn’t Stephen defend himself against the Scribes and Pharisees? We have only one example of a disciple using violence to defend religious freedoms, and Jesus rebukes him for the action. We could learn much from Gandhi’s attitude toward violence if we wish to be more like Christ.

Humility

It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.

Harijan (17 February 1940)

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

– I Corinthians 10:12

When we think we are at our strongest, that is when we become most vulnerable. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, pleads for us to keep asking, seeking, knocking. Paul, in Philippians 3:12, claims he is continually trying to improve himself and push forward toward his goal. The most influential of the apostles never felt he could stop growing. Gandhi never felt his search for wisdom was over. Neither should we be content to stagnate in a sense of self-satisfaction on our Christian walk. We should always be testing, self-correcting, and improving ourselves so we may not fall.

Caring for Others

A man of truth must also be a man of care.

An Autobiography (1927)

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

– James 1:27

Gandhi and Christ’s followers realized the same thing – to make a difference in the world, we must make a difference to individuals. How often can we read of Jesus or one of His disciples reaching out to an impoverished individual, a widow, a sick person, an outcast? Can the same be said of us? Are we so concerned with saving the world that we forget those closest to us? We often quote the Zen teaching that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The same is true of souls. If we want to make a difference to millions of wandering souls, it begins with those we can reach out to and care for within our reach.

Living the Message

My life is my message.

Mahatma : Life of Gandhi 1869-1948

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus…

– Colossians 3:17

The end of the matter is this: live your message. You want to spread the word of Christ? Live it – and not only when it is convenient or when it agrees with your politics or your personal preferences. Live the message day in and day out. As Gandhi might say, “Be the change we wish to see in the world.” We may speak the words of the gospel, but our actions can drown out the message if they do not agree with those words of truth. If we are Christ’s, we have died to self, and it is He who lives in us. Our conduct should reflect that.

There are many in this world who claim to wear the name of Christ – conservative political leaders, TV personalities, radio talk show hosts – whose actions deny the name they so loudly claim to defend. They sell a gospel of violence, of greed, of hatred, and of anger. Christ was and is none of these things. Instead of letting people like these influence us, I’d encourage us to take a look at this humble man from India, a lawyer who gave up all to hold up the poor; a man who resisted injustice with peace; a man who cared that his words and his actions agreed. Though he never wore the name of Christ, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi gave us an example of what it means to deny self, pick up a cross, and live selflessly.