Jesus’s disciples had drawn close to hear their rabbi say, “The cup that the Father has given to me, shall I not drink?” With the Master’s words came a gentle breeze, finding its way under the low branches of the olive trees, bringing with it the clean aroma of olive oil and spring air. Now, they watched for what seemed the thousandth time as the Healer spoke words of comfort and kindness and his power flowed from his hands to the ailing body.
John watched Malchus’s tears mix with the blood flowing from the gash Peter had made. Water and blood, John thought, made aware of the acrid smell of iron and earth, blood mixing with the smell of dirt and sweat. But even as John looked on, a waft of breeze slipped past his cheek, and lifted Malchus’s lank hair. The open and jagged cut began to come together, skin regenerating under the tears and blood and Jesus’s hand. Soon Malchus’s ear was reattached, the scar already thinning and softening.
Jesus rose to his feet, pulling Malchus up with him, then turned to Simon—to both of the Simons, the Zealot and the Rock. “No more of this,” he repeated, his voice firm, his face impassive.
But now there was rustling, the wind had picked up, the cool breeze become a gust with an icy bite. The soldiers were remembering themselves, Malchus had pulled away to the edges of the cohort, and the captain was making his way towards Jesus, his torch flickering and crackling. Others were shakily making their way forward as well, the disciples subdued.
Jesus spoke to Peter again, this time earnestly, “Because all who take up the sword, by the sword are destroyed.”
He turned to the approaching soldiers his hands outstretched, and spoke in a louder voice, but his eyes were on his disciples, “Are you all thinking I am not able to call upon my Father; then he would provide for me abundantly in this hour–twelve legions of angels?!”
Their mouths slackened, and John felt the familiar stirring in his chest, the burning ache whenever he listened to Jesus speak of the Father, and of the might of heaven. “And so how then,” Jesus now demanded them, his voice rising with the wind, “Would the Scriptures be fulfilled that in this way is bound to come about?” Some shook their heads, others were already watching with rounded eyes as the soldiers rapidly approached. John wondered how it was the olive grove had not burst into flames by now, with all the blowing air, wild swaying of torches, and dropping of lanterns.
Jesus turned as the cohort was nearly upon him and spoke to the armed men closest to him, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you come at me with dirks and cudgels?” And he lifted his arms for them. Once again, many hands grabbed at Jesus, chains were again made ready to bind him, and the disciples shoved roughly away.
The captain of the temple guard and the captain of the Roman cohort had each now positioned themselves on either side of Jesus. John, who had also been manhandled, was now searching for Judas, to demand an explanation, for Thomas to see whether he, too, had been captured, for the Zealot, as he always had a plan, but he could find no one. Already, too many soldiers had come between him and the rabbi, and he could see nothing but the knot of torches, flames leaping high over where Jesus must now be restrained. Then John heard the Master’s voice, above the din of fighting men,
“Every day, I was among you all, in the temple, teaching, and you did not seize me.” By this point, John had found Peter, and they exchanged a look between them. Malchus, who had always been skulking nearby in the temple precinct, surely had reported every word, every movement of the rabbi when they had been there. But whenever the guard had come, they would not apprehend the Master
“But rather,” came Jesus’s voice, “In order that the scriptures would be fulfilled.” The sound of their rabbi’s voice was trailing off as they listened, for the great press of soldiers was surging forward, trampling once again through the grove, branches snapping and sparks flying as they made their way to the temple mount.
Peter had his hand on John’s shoulder as they watched and felt the armed men jostle by them. Soon enough, the grove was empty, and in the quiet even the wind had eerily stilled. The air felt dead, and an exhaustion settled heavily on John so that he felt weak, that he could not even stand.
Wearily, he and Peter set foot, one in front of the other, each step an effort, their minds both empty and yet full, swirling beyond words, numb and blind, but headed for Jerusalem in the wake of the Master’s arrest. They would ask any passerby where the cohort had gone, but both of them felt sure it would be to Caiaphas’s compound, where the high priest would receive his guard.
Later, Mark would tell them he had followed the cohort after Judas had stopped by his house, enquiring of Jesus’s whereabouts, but that during the fight in the olive grove, they had seized his garment, and in his terror he had torn free, fleeing naked in the dark of night, back to his home.
Love Your Enemies
It fascinates me that in the moments before Jesus was bound and led away, he healed one of his captors. What does loving one’s enemies look like? Well, like that, probably.
He then reminded everyone present—his own followers and the soldiers who had come for him; Peter, John and James on the one side, Judas, and the captains of the temple guard and Roman cohort on the other—of who he really was, and what the mighty heavenly legions, thousands upon thousands of supernatural angelic beings might do in his defense. Against this backdrop, Jesus willingly permitted a mere cohort of several hundred armed humans to arrest him.
In all four gospel accounts of Jesus’s arrest, one theme holds steady.
Jesus is always in control, even in the darkest hour
Human history began in a Garden, the Garden of Eden, where life was actually perfect. Then came the enemy of God, the serpent with intent to corrupt, and the first man disobeyed God. The cause and effect of sin is always death of some kind.
What is significantly missing in that first story, in Genesis 3, is prayer. The first man and woman did not seem to have gone to God for answers, or help, or anything at all, really.
Now in this garden, the Garden of Gethsemane, God’s enemies once again entered with the intent to destroy. Only this time, there was prayer and obedience, as Jesus willingly moved forward in God’s plan.
A Hidden Victory
It may have looked the same, on the outside, it may have looked as though the enemy had won both rounds. But this second death would undo all of death, it would restore what had been and anchor it for eternity, it would gut the power of sin and death so that evil would never again gain such purchase in the hearts and minds, and bodies of humankind.
The Son of Humanity would accomplish this, the second Adam.
In fulfillment of scripture, in accordance with God’s word, Jesus willingly chose to submit himself to his Father’s will, even to the cross.
He was prepared to die, so that you and I could be free to live.
[Arrest of Christ | Giotto di Bondone, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]
I remember standing before this fresco, years ago in a little chapel in Italy. Giotto was a master of evoking the emotion of a scene, and must have also been a deeply spiritual man, for the sensitivity he imbued in all his depictions.