In each of the four gospels we have the account of Jesus at the end of his earthly ministry in the garden of Gethsemane when the crowd comes to arrest him.  We are given the scene of one of his disciples either preparing to draw a sword and defend Jesus against the encircling mob or actually drawing the sword and severing the ear of a servant who was present.  John’s gospel specifically identifies the zealous disciple as Simon Peter. 

For our purposes here it is helpful to reflect on Matthew’s account.  

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 shall kiss is the man; seize him.”  And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Hail, Master!”  And he kissed him.  Jesus said to him, “Friend, why are you here?”  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 slave 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.” 

This disciple (whether it was Peter or not, I cannot say) was not a bad man.  He had a love for Jesus.  He did not want to see Jesus hurt nor an injustice toward Jesus committed.  He wanted to defend the master and teacher who had done nothing but preach God’s love and mercy and the coming of the Kingdom.  His motives were honest, yet from our Lord’s reaction we can see that his action fell short of the mark and he did not yet fully understand what the Lord was about.   

Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place: for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” 

Our Lord, even as he faced his own death, shows us that there is another way; that we do not have to give in to the sad and tired logic of violence, war and retribution.  In Christ and in the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom there is the ever new possibility of peace, restored relationship, honest encounter and even friendship.  As Pope Francis, a disciple of Christ Jesus, recently said in his Angelus message, “War never brings peace.  War begets war!  Violence begets violence! … Peace is a treasure of all humanity!”  Jesus reveals to us that there is truly another way – there is an ever-new logic of dialogue and encounter.   

We have all been witnessing the increasingly brutal cycle of violence in Syria.  All of us have been horrified by the gratuitous loss of life and the new revelation of the apparent use of chemical weapons by government forces.  We all want to “do something” to stop this horror.  No person, honest in his or her humanity, can deny that this is just plain wrong and evil.  

President Obama and the members of Congress (like that disciple in the garden of Gethsemane) are good people.  They are good people who want to “do something” to end the violence that is ripping Syria apart.  But more violence is not the answer that is needed at this moment.  A different way is needed and the gospel points out this way. 

Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place: for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”  

There is another way and we need to give this other way a chance!  The work of diplomacy, negotiation, humanitarian aid and dialogue is neither a sign of weakness nor a form of isolationism.  Dialogue is the furthest thing from isolationism – it is the willingness to truly seek out and encounter the “other” wherever and whoever he or she might be.  The way of encounter acknowledges that we share a common humanity with shared hopes and dreams!  The way of violence denies a common humanity.  Violence and resorting to the mechanism of violence to achieve ones goal is, in fact, the true isolationism.  It is, in essence, stating, in very stark ways, “My way or no way!”  It is also (and I believe that this is at play in the current situation) a way of assuaging ones tranquility and sense of having “done something” while not really having to encounter the other because when we encounter we might ourselves have to change.  The thought of bombing Syria can be likened to the decision that the only way to solve the domestic abuse situation next door (which everyone in the neighborhood is painfully aware of) is to throw some hand grenades through the front window!  What is the priority here?  Is it the good of the Syrian people and the country of Syria or is it our own peace of mind?  True encounter demands that the good of people always comes first, even above our own sense of tranquility.    

Violence begets violence.  War begets more war.  God calls us to a new way.  When we were lost in sin and turned away from God; God came to encounter us, God came to seek out our friendship.  Peace belongs to everyone and is ever possible because when we had turned our backs on God, God came to us in peace.  This is the “serene and sure vision” of religion that must be brought to our world and brought to all people, including those good people who out of a desire to “do something” would draw the sword.  How often must we draw the sword?  How many times?  When will it end?   

At the Meeting of Prayer for Peace in Sarajevo (September 11, 2012) Professor Andrea Riccardi – founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio – offered these words.  (The “serene and sure vision”, I would hold, is the vision of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane and it is what we have to give to the world and it is a vision our world desperately needs.) 

Let us look at the future without fear!  Let us prepare the future in friendliness among peoples.  Let us look at the future without being paralyzed by past fears!  We need courage and hope to prepare a future of life together in peace.  Let us forfeit all prejudices, the preaching of hatred.  We can build the future, educating women, men, the youth to peace: for only peace is holy, and living together reveals the will of God and the equality of all people.  Equality that is rooted in God himself.  For whoever kills a man, but also whoever hates or despises a human being, strikes God himself!  Religions can be foreseeing.  We can convey a new conviction to everyone, a conviction developed in contact with the sorrows of many and the experience of peoples: war is evil, violence can never be justified in God’s name.  Dialogue can help resolve insurmountable problems.  We have a serene and sure vision: it is an ancient and very new vision.  We are a reference point – the spirit of Assisi is – in the plurality of our religions: a reference point of peace. 

Before we rush to “do something”, before we rush to bomb Syria, let us spend some time with our Lord in the garden of Gethsemane and let us learn his way. 

This is what Isaiah, son of Amoz, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
In days to come,
The mountain of the LORD’s house
shall be established as the highest mountain
and raised above the hills.
All nations shall stream toward it.
many peoples shall come and say:
“Come, let us go up to the LORD’s mountain,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may instruct us in his ways,
and we may walk in his paths.”
For from Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and set terms for many peoples.
They shall beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks;
One nation shall not raise the sword against another,
nor shall they train for war again.
House of Jacob, come,
let us walk in the light of the LORD!  (Is. 2:1-5)