The Prism of Justice
The torch-lit mob moved carefully through the Garden of Gethsemane, led by Jesus’ friend Judas. This unnecessary nighttime raid in the garden of prayer was just one in a hundred perversions of justice. “Unnecessary” is the euphemistic word we use so often when we see yet another face slammed and ground into the pavement. Yet, it is in this garden where we who witness the continual assault on human dignity, the rationalization of violence, the indifference to lives that were loved and the impunity for perpetrators, it is here where we find a word that heals.
Upon close examination, we find a nuanced story of justice, love, and submission.
Jesus, the man of sorrows and acquainted with our grief, certainly asserted His rights at the outset when He questioned the propriety of the moonlight seizure. “I’ve been teaching in the temple, walking around town, everywhere, everyday, but you come to get Me at night? Like some dangerous criminal?,” he wondered (Matthew 26:55)? Clearly, judicial process meant nothing to the Jews of the Sanhedrin. They were hell-bent on His death.
Even in the days of Jesus, the breach of law that followed was a horrifying and satanic inspiration. He was tried by night, lied on by witnesses, compelled to incriminate Himself, condemned by a court with no jurisdiction, subject to mob rule and violence, damaged by mental abuse, beaten while pronounced innocent, and tried five times for the same crime. Yet, Jesus was found innocent on each appeal. Judas, the paid confidential informant recanted his own lying testimony, while no witnesses were called—though there were many—to His defense. Finally, the usual sentence for a “blasphemer” was to be hung, not the cruel torture of crucifixion.
To all of this Jesus submitted Himself, because it was His plan all along to take the condemnation for you and me (John 10:18; 1 Peter 1:20; Revelations 13:8). For Him the injustice of the moment paled in comparison to the idea of losing us forever. Thus, Jesus, it is emphasized even in traditional Negro lore, “Never said a mumbling word.”
What would Jesus do or say, less His salvific purpose from the foundation of the world, and less His divinity? I do not know. Make no mistake, though, when He comes again He will exact justice on the ones who “presided” over His trial and delivered Him up to be crucified (Luke 22:68, Revelation 1:7).
Back to the garden. There we find the disciple Peter. Hours before he was too drowsy to stay focused on his pleading and praying Friend. For “sorrow,” He could not stay engaged. Because of his sorrow he could not find a way to bolster his strength through prayer. Because of his sorrow Peter relied on his instinct rather than his faith when the crisis unfolded.
A few hours before that, Jesus warned His fierce friend that He needed to watch because Satan desperately desired Him (Luke 22:31). “Remember the time when I sent you out before, and I told you to take nothing?,” Jesus reminded his disciples. “Not so this time. Take your clothes, your money, your weapons.”
“We have two swords here,” the disciples said. “It is enough,” replied Jesus (Luke 22:38).
Yet, is that what Jesus wanted? Disoriented and confused, Peter had missed the meaning. Perhaps only our retrospect makes it clear now. Had Peter ever seen Jesus hurt anyone, even in self-defense? Besides, you can’t take a sword to a gunfight, much less a fight against principalities and rulers of this present darkness. There may be times to fight. There may have been a time to fight, but this could not have been one of them. Peter whipped out his sword before waiting for an answer to his question,“Lord, do you want us to smite them with the sword?”
Peter’s weapon found its mark on Malchus’ ear. Malchus, the bystander. Malchus the high priest’s servant. Malchus, a faceless extra in three of the gospels. He is instantly disfigured, yet strangely his suffering is silent. The Bible writers record no shrieking agony, none of his shock, none of the spurting blood, the soiled clothes. We learn nothing of the prosecution of a case against Peter. None of the mob apparently cared enough to nab Peter for the assault. And, it certainly did not further the mob’s interest to mention Malchus during the prosecution of Jesus. Malchus was just the price one pays for doing business this way. This was cheap enough, but not to Jesus.
The steamrolling machine the mob rode came to a cold stop while Jesus repaired and replaced the ear. Just a touch and all was restored, and that by the hand that created the world and everything in it. Altogether healing.
That is what we all want, isn’t it? We want Sandra Bland back. We want Oscar Grant back. We want Clementa Pinckney back. We want our children felled by stray bullets back, and our boys who died at gunpoint by people in the neighborhood.
We want our marriages back, our health back, our families back. We want our reputation restored, our career back on the track, the lost time regained. We want it back!