I recently had a Zoom meeting with a Dominican priest who serves the parishioners of St Saviour’s in Dominick street. We touched upon the events leading up to Christ’s imprisonment, in which the proposed God of the universe commands his follower; “Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword” (Matthew 26, 26:52).
This injunction by Christ, at a time in which he could have exercised violence, goes against the message noted in Matthew, ‘Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword’ (Matthew 10:34). The atheists amongst us would state that such a contradiction in messaging is proof of the messaging’s lack of validity. However, such a view misses the richness of the Gospels, and an apparent contradiction in messaging is not necessarily a reason for us to ignore the message.
Another example regarding Easter messaging fleshes out the answer to the title of this piece, and it also offers a reason as to why Christ rejected violence at the time of his capture. The three pieces of Biblical text that appear contradictory are in fact unified.
- John’s account of Christ’s imprisonment ‘So Jesus said to Peter, “Put the sword into the sheath. Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given me?”’ (John 18:11).
- Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane in which Christ requests to God if the cup he must drink can be avoided ‘Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me: nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done’ (Luke 22:42).
- And finally, when Christ drinks the cup that was to be given to him, on the cross he exclaims, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) & (Psalm 22).
The context of these three separate but unifiable sections of the Bible are pertaining to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the sins of man. Christ takes on the sins of all, for with his sacrificial death, the possibility to overcome sin is realised. Hence, why he allowed his inevitable imprisonment. Why does Christ say, ‘he is forsaken on the cross?’. Is Christ not still God whilst on the cross? Or is it a more Zizek-like scenario, and Jesus is the original atheist on the cross, and through stating a plea not to be forsaken he in effect doubts God? The Easter message through this prism appears more difficult than one’s first impressions (of what they possibly remember of Christianity, as a cultural phenomenon). It need not be complicated, the exclamation of forsakenness is Christ separated from God in his human nature, as opposed to Christ separated from God in his divine nature. Christ is God made man, he is a divine human, and thus experiences a human death, only to be resurrected on Easter Sunday. The question of forsakenness is an echo of a human death in which the possibility of not being linked with God is realized (as Jesus’ death on the cross is in unison with the sins of man – thus as with sin the fullness of God is deprived). Christ’s human nature cried out, like we will all do in the event of our death.
In summary, what are we to make of the God who dies for us? The option is twofold, it is the tale of a madman (to paraphrase C.S. Lewis), or it is love personified. Love personified as the message of Christianity is that God understands our pain, and through his son Jesus’s death, we have a way out of misery. We must focus on the love of Christ as he willingly took sins upon himself for our absolution. In other words, the message of this article can also be summed up as: ‘If you want a religion to make you really comfortable, I certainly wouldn’t recommend Christianity’ (C.S Lewis, Answers to Questions on Christianity, 1973)