The kind of peace I advocate for is the kind illustrated in the life of Jesus. He embraced peace to the point of death when he could have started a legitimate holy war instead. Not only could he have called angels down to fight, but he also had enough traction that he could have easily incited the crowds to violence.
“Put your sword back into its place,” the Savior told Peter after he had cut off a guard’s ear who had come to arrest him. ”For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Mt 26:52).
Jesus very well could have incited violence in that moment if he wanted to, but he didn’t. Instead, he rebuked his follower for using a sword and then picked up the guard’s ear and put it back on his head. “No more of this!” (Lk 22:51) he told his disciples.
Peter was an important disciple who had been following Jesus since the beginning, but somehow, he still had not caught onto the vision of the Messiah. He must have reacted with violence quickly, because in Luke 22:49, the disciples ask if they should “strike with the sword,” and one verse later Peter does so without even giving Jesus time to answer. Can you imagine that?
DISCIPLES: Hey Jesus should we use our sw—
On top of that, is Peter secretly a ninja or something? I mean, who intentionally and professionally slices someone’s ear off? It seems to me that this fisherman went for the kill and missed, nearly forcing Jesus to bring a man back from the dead rather than just reattach a body part.
Interestingly, Peter just did something here that should have landed him in jail, if not worse. Yet, when the threat of “jail or worse” comes up later, he completely denies Jesus. Why was he willing to take on suffering if he could use violence, but not if he had to remain peaceful like Jesus?
As Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw point out in one of my favorite books of all time, Jesus For President, “If ever there were a case for justified violence or ‘a just war,’ Peter had it when he picked up the sword to protect Jesus from Roman soldiers coming to kill him.” But Jesus doesn’t take on war in this instance—whether it be by means of angels or humans—and therefore shows us that violence is never acceptable. Jesus spent all of his time putting body parts back on people or installing new ones, not taking them off.
N.T. Wright points out that, “Jesus could see that the standard kind of revolution, fighting and killing in order to put an end to… fighting and killing was a nonsense. Doing it in God’s name was a blasphemous nonsense.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us that the Kingdom ways of reacting to persecution are different. We aren’t to pull out a sword like Peter, threatening an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth, but instead, if someone slaps us we are to turn the other cheek (Mt 5:38-39). If someone sues us, we’re to give them more than they won in the settlement (Mt 5:40). If someone forces us to walk a mile with them and carry all their stuff, we should walk two miles instead (Mt 5:41).
Many of us treat passages like these as though they’re just suggestions or embellishments—as though Jesus didn’t really mean anything by them when he said it. But turning the other cheek, giving more away to someone than they deserve and walking an extra mile, are real kingdom options that have real kingdom power. Such methods of grace have a way of turning hearts of stone into flesh and causing people to see their own bitterness. It’s like when someone you’ve been gossiping about comes right up to you and hands you an unexpected gift. Suddenly you have to face yourself. Why have you been saying all of those bad things about them? They’re so nice to you! In the same way, if someone turns the other cheek, the one doing the afflicting will have to take a good hard look in the mirror.
For a great example of Jesus’ backward ways of peace, let’s take a look at the end of J.R.R. Tolkien’s, The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In the movie the Hobbits destroy the ring and everything is all good again, but in the book something different happens: the hobbits return home to the once peaceful Shire to find their hometown in ruins and overtaken by Saruman—a good wizard gone evil. The hobbits managed to gang up on Saruman and Frodo’s right-hand man, Sam had a chance to kill him.
“No, Sam!” said Frodo. “Do not kill him even now. For he has not hurt me. And in any case I do not wish him to be slain in this evil mood. He was great once, of a noble kind that we should not dare to raise our hands against. He is fallen, and his cure is beyond us; but I would still spare him, in the hope that he may find it.”
Saruman rose to his feet, and stared at Frodo. There was a strange look in his eyes of mingled wonder and respect and hatred. “You have grown, Halfling,” he said. “Yes, you have grown very much. You are wise, and cruel. You have robbed my revenge of sweetness, and now I must go hence in bitterness, in debt to your mercy. I hate it and you!”
Frodo’s actions weren’t some kind of Jesus way of “getting even” or “getting back at” his enemy, but rather they carried such a strong creative disarming power that there was no way Saruman could retaliate. Even if he did, there would be no pleasure in it.
Jesus’ methods are disarming. How many people are really messed up enough to actually give that second slap? The only reason we don’t know the answer is because we rarely ever try to practice Heaven’s principles in the first place.
In order to be sons and daughters of God, we must love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Mt 5:44-45), as well as become peacemakers (Mt 5:9). These are the ways of life that Jesus attributes to the children of God and there’s no getting around it. You obviously can’t love your neighbor or your enemy with a shotgun to the face—indeed the very thought is ridiculous.
Jesus is pro-life about people in general, whether they be the unborn, refugees, or blatant sinners. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy,” he told us. “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn 10:10-11).
And as his sheep, we are to be like our shepherd, passing along the ways of abundant life—not death.
This is an excerpt from my book, A Taste of Jesus.
Claiborne, Shane, and Chris Haw. Jesus for President. Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan, 2008, p. 202.
Wright, N. T. Matthew for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-15. 2nd ed., London, SPCK Publishing, 2004, p. 30.
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Return of the King: Being the Third Part of The Lord of the Rings. Boston. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1966, p. 996.