Posted by: Don Bemis | April 7, 2012

The Angry Messiah

I used to imagine Jesus in tears at his betrayal in Gethsemane, dragged to the Sanhedrin, answering his inquisitors truthfully but with resignation, and virtually carried to his death.  Now I picture it differently.

Jesus revealed at his last supper that he would be betrayed.  Then he ordered Judas to leave and complete his treachery quickly.  Thus Jesus sealed his sentence.  We do not know how long Judas would have delayed if he had not been commanded by the Lord who could even order demons to obey.

Jesus later turned to Peter and addressed him by his original name, not “Rocky”, which is what Peter means.  “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.  And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

Stalwart Rocky was hurt.  What did Jesus mean, turn back?  That could not happen unless he turned away first.  “Lord,” he argued,  “I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!”

But Jesus ironically answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”

Then Jesus asked them all, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”

“Nothing,” they answered.

He was about to leave them alone for a few days, without his support.  “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.  It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me.  Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”

They said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”

“That is enough,” he replied.

After dinner, Jesus went to the garden of Gethsemane as usual to pray.  His puzzled disciples followed.   Peter strapped on one of the swords, stung by Jesus’ suggestion that he would turn coward.

Jesus left most of the disciples in the garden, but he took James, John, and Peter further in.  “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.  Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Going a little farther, he fell face down and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.  Yet not as I will, but as you will.”  Although Jesus himself had set the wheels in motion, still he dreaded the consequences.  He knew he would rise again, but he also knew better than anyone else just how awful the interim would be.

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping.  “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter.  “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.  The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”

Poor Peter!  Here he was, sword at his side, ready to defend his lord to the death, and he couldn’t even stay awake!

Jesus went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”   Then he went back and again found his three closest friends asleep.  So he left them, went away once more, and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.  “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

An angel from heaven came to strengthen him.   This had happened once before, after Jesus had faced forty days of hunger, thirst, and temptation.  The temptation was the same in both cases:  Jesus, you’re entitled to take the good things.  Jesus, you don’t have to put up with this.  Jesus, are these people really worth it?

This is the point where I began to see something different in the story.  It may be risky, but I drew on my own experience.  When I am forced into an utterly detestable task, I don’t get sad; I get angry.  It just isn’t fair!  I don’t deserve this!  That is how I feel even if it is fair and I do deserve it.  Jesus really didn’t deserve it, and it wasn’t fair.  Why shouldn’t he be angry?

Jesus resigned himself to his task, but he was not happy about it.  He returned to the disciples who were again asleep.  The first time, he had empathized.  The second time, he left them napping.  The third time, he let them have it.  “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners!  Get up, let’s go!  Here comes my betrayer!”

He might have been in a white heat by then.  His stunned disciples stumbled to their feet.  Peter may have felt for his sword.

Then Judas arrived with an armed crowd.  He had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.”  A kiss was a greeting of friendship, whether true or false.  Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!”

“Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?  Do what you came for, ‘friend’.”  Jesus’ voice may have been dripping with sarcasm.

Judas kissed him.  We don’t know if the look in his eyes was one of defiance, guilt, or terror.

The mob grabbed Jesus immediately.  Then he faced them.

Remember that his enemies did not doubt his ability to perform miracles.  They knew he could, regardless of the source of his power.  What might this angry Jesus do?

“Who is it you want?” he demanded.

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.

“I am he.”

The crowd drew back and fell to the ground.  This is not the way a mob responds to a weak-looking victim.

Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?”

Again they said, “Jesus of Nazareth,” but maybe with a little less assurance.

“I told you that I am he!” Jesus answered.  “If you are looking for me, then let these men go!”

The disciples were fully awake by then, surrounded by anger.  Jesus himself was angry, and anger is infectious.  “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” they asked.   Peter didn’t wait for an answer but sliced a man’s ear off.  He would defend his lord even though Jesus had said he would fall away.

But then Jesus rounded on Peter.  “Put your sword away!  Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”   And he healed Peter’s victim.  Peter probably was dumfounded.  Had Jesus not said to get a sword?  Why couldn’t he use it?

Because Jesus was not the one who needed defending.

“Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?  But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”  Jesus spoke to his disciples, especially Peter, but the crowd also heard.  Here was a very angry miracle worker who could raise the dead, had just healed a man before their eyes, and claimed he could bring tens of thousands of angels to his defense.  What else might he do?

Then he swung back to the crowd.  “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs?  Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you didn’t lay a hand on me.  But this is your hour—when darkness reigns!”

How frightened was the mob?  So frightened that they let Jesus’ followers go even though at least two were armed and one had attacked a man.  The disciples – including Peter – took advantage of the opportunity, deserted Jesus, and fled.

I imagine Jesus stalking off with the crowd, fire in his eyes, seeming more a general than a prisoner, even if he was tied up.

His attitude did not change during interrogation and abuse.  When the high priest questioned him about his disciples and his teaching, Jesus questioned him right back.

“I have spoken openly to the world.  I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together.  I said nothing in secret.  Why question me?  Ask those who heard me.  Surely they know what I said.”

This was not the answer of a defeated man.  An official struck him in the face.  “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded.

Jesus did not apologize.  The high priest was his servant, not the other way around.  “If I said something wrong,” Jesus retorted, “testify as to what is wrong.  But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?”

Nobody seems to have dared to reply.   Instead, they sent him away.  That was easier than answering his accusations.

Peter eventually crept into the area where Jesus was being interrogated.  Three times, as predicted, he indeed denied knowing Jesus.  Then he looked up, and there was Jesus looking straight back at him.  An “I told you so!” look, or even a “Doubt me, will you?” look, seems more likely than one of stunned disbelief.

After further abuse and ridicule, Jesus was taken to Pontius Pilate for a sentence of death.  Pilate was at least a little afraid of him.

“Are you the king of the Jews?” he asked.

Jesus’ defiance did not waver.  He threw the question back.  “Is that your own idea, or did others talk to you about me?”

Pilate evaded the question.  “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me.  What is it you have done?”

Jesus corrected him.  “My kingdom is not of this world.  If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews.  But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus minced no words.  “You are right in saying I am a king.  In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” the cynical Pilate asked.  Truth looked him back in the eye:  bloody, beaten, in a borrowed royal robe, wearing a cruel joke for a crown, but demanding to be taken seriously.  Here was power!  Pilate understood power.  But he feared the power of Rome and the power of the mob more than that of truth.  He made his decision and condemned Jesus.  Not willingly, though, because truth had stared him down.

(Quotes are from the New International Version of the Bible.  Read it yourself, and draw your own conclusion.)

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