March 24, 2006

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus in the Gospels: Betrayed with a kiss

See Matthew 26:47-56, Mark 14:43-51, Luke 22:47-53, John 18:1-11

After his agony and prayers in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was wholly in command of his emotions and actions. He had resigned himself to what was about to happen. He was prepared to go to the slaughter like a lamb.

As the Apostles were waking up in the cave of Gethsemane, Judas arrived with a crowd of people sent by the high priest Caiaphas. They were probably temple police and servants of the chief priests and scribes who had long threatened to kill Jesus, but John’s Gospel also mentions soldiers. Perhaps Caiaphas had thought it wise to get the cooperation of the Roman occupiers right from the start.

Judas told them that he would give a kiss to the man they were to arrest. It would be the kind of embrace one might exchange between friends, but the word Matthew and Mark use indicates the kiss of warm devotion. One has to marvel at such audacity. Jesus said to him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”

Jesus then asked the crowd, “Whom are you looking for?” When they replied, “Jesus the Nazorean,” and he replied, “I AM,” the crowd fell to the ground. He displayed such majesty that he probably could have walked right through the crowd, as he had done on previous occasions. But that was not to be this time. Rather, he thought not of himself, but of his Apostles, telling the crowd to let them go.

Finally, it seems, Peter got his nerve up. He had a sword. He drew it, swung it wildly, and managed to cut off the right ear of Malchus, the high priest’s slave.

Several questions have to occur to us. First, where did Peter suddenly get a sword? Why didn’t he swing it at Judas instead of Malchus? How did the author of John’s Gospel know the slave’s name? Why were the evangelists so specific about the right ear?

We can imagine that Judas was happy about this turn of events. There are those who believe that he had become disillusioned with Jesus because he was so slow to act as the type of Messiah Judas thought he was. Now, he thought, he had been successful in provoking Peter and surely the master would also fight.

Not so. Jesus quickly stopped the fight and told Peter to put his sword away, “for all who take the sword will perish by the sword,” then Jesus healed Malchus’s ear—his final healing miracle.

Then all his followers deserted Jesus. Only Mark tells us the rather strange story of a young man following them “wearing nothing but a linen cloth about his body. They seized him, but he left the cloth behind and ran off naked.”

Was this young man Mark himself? Had he become curious when the crowd passed his home and followed to see what was going on, and in a hurry just thrown on a linen cloth? What other explanation could there be? †



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