The Similarities of Peter and Moses
and the comfort their stories give me.
While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. 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?” At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled.
What does this story tell me about Jesus?
John supplies the names of both the disciple (Peter) and the high priest’s slave (Malchus), and Luke tells of the restoration of the ear. But Matthew simply tells the bare facts in order draw out the message of Jesus’ rejection of violent resistance… Jesus’ sovereign control of the events in which he appears as the helpless victim is thus highlighted. All who take the sword will perish by the sword is probably not just a proveribal maxim (it would in any case be untrue as a general ovservation), but may echo the interpretation of Isaiah 50:11 reflected in the Targum, which interprets the ‘kindling of fire’ as taking up the sword. Jesus thus lives out the principe of non-resistance which he has required of his disciples in Matthew 5:39-42.
[Peter], who tried armed resistance, had simply misread the situation. Jesus is not a helpless victim, needing any human help available. He is being arrested because he chooses; if he wanted help he could call on far more than swords… His refusal to thwart his enemies’ plan either by evasion or supernatural power derives from his repeatedly voiced conviction that his mission must be one of rejection and suffering. Behind these earlier predictions it has not been hard to discern the scriptures as the source of Jesus’ conviction; now the source is made explicit. And for Jesus there is no other option but that the scriptures be fulfilled. That issue had been settled in Gethsemane.
This attitude of Jesus makes the show of force by the Jewish leaders quite inappropriate… far from leading an insurrection, Jesus has been sitting teaching as the Rabbis did.
—Dick France, on his commentary on Matthew
How does this passage help me make sense of my own story?
This story reminds me of Moses. For several years, I’ve found conviction and encouragement in the story of Moses. Before Moses leads the Israelites out of slavery, before he serves as God’s representative to Pharaoh to urge liberation for his people, before the de-creation of Egypt brought forth through the plagues, Moses 1.) sees an act of injustice, 2.) responds in violence born out of his own impulses instead of God’s ways, and 3.) he flees.
One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand… When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian.
—Exodus 2:11-13, 15
Like Moses and Peter, my inclination is to respond to those who push against the message and values of God’s Kingdom with violence (oh the irony). To be clear, my violence is not physical, but of my tongue. I’m not vulnerable enough to recount the specifics here; but know that I’ve issued wounding words instead of love when overwhelmed by injustice I’ve witnessed.
We can’t dive into the full stories of Moses and Peter here, but like them, I’ve also been lead to a place where I’ve had to face and grapple with my sin, with my propensity to muck things up (to paraphrase Francis Spufford’s defintion is sin).
Moses is led to Midian; Peter’s story of messing it up isn’t even done yet.
And (spoiler!) both Moses and Peter are restored, and actually become leaders of God’s people. Moses leads his people out of Egypt. Peter does indeed become a rock on which the church is built. And their leadership (though imperfect) is of God and his ways, standing in stark contrast to their early efforts. I see their leadership as the fruit of really, really messing it up, then finding restoration in the grace and mercy of God.
Something I love to do is read Peter’s stories in the Gospels, and contrast them with his letters later in the New Testament. We don’t know what happened to Peter that changed his inner life and way of living except that it was obviously the work of the Holy Spirit; I’d love to know the details of that change one day.
Here’s a passage from 1 Peter that is beautiful to read alongside today’s story.
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.
Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.
—1 Peter 3:8-9, 13-17
The God who worked in the life of Peter is the God at work in our lives through the power of the crucified, resurrected and ascended Lord. What comfort that gives me. Thanks be to God.
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