The Arrest

John 18:1-11

JohnWhen he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was an olive grove, and he and his disciples went into it. Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples.

So Judas came to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.

Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, "Who is it you want?" "Jesus of Nazareth," they replied. "I am he," Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.)

When Jesus said, "I am he," they drew back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them, "Who is it you want?" And they said, "Jesus of Nazareth." "I told you that I am he," Jesus answered. "If you are looking for me, then let these men go." This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: "I have not lost one of those you gave me."

Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant's name was Malchus.) Jesus commanded Peter, "Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?"

Commentary by Donald Senior, C.P.

The opening scene of John's account sets the mood for the entire passion story. On one level, it is a tale of terror--betrayal by a friend, a violent nighttime arrest of an innocent person, the abuse of power by armed authorities. This is a chilling scene -- very familiar and very contemporary for Christians in many parts of the world.

But there is another level to this scene--Jesus freely choosing to place himself before his enemies; the overwhelming authority of his sacred person hurling the powers of darkness to the ground; Jesus in command even at the moment of his arrest.

So it is with John's entire passion story: the tragedy of violent death is overwhelmed by the power of redemptive love. For John, Jesus is the Word made flesh, sent to reveal the abiding love of God for the world. The most compelling statement of that love is, paradoxically, the death of Jesus. In giving his life "for his friends" (15:13)--the most noble of human actions--Jesus reveals God's overwhelming love for the world. From the perspective of faith, the death of Jesus is a word of life.

John's passion begins abruptly in comparison to the Synoptic gospels. There is no reference to the plot against Jesus, no anointing at Bethany and no account of the last supper, nor does Jesus pray his anguished prayer in Gethsamene before the moment of the arrest. To some degree John has taken care of these events or their equivalents earlier in his Gospel. Once Jesus has completed his long farewell discourse with the disciples (chs. 13-17), he leads them across the Kidron valley to a garden and the drama of the passion will begin (18:1).

John's account does not flinch before the terrible reality of death. It first appears in the guise of Judas, the disciple who betrays Jesus. In John's perspective, "Satan"--the very personification of evil--induces Judas to betray Jesus (13:2). Allied with Judas are Roman soldiers (only John mentions this) and guards from the priests and the Pharisees (18:3). The whole spectrum of power is arrayed against Jesus: Jew and Gentile; secular and religious.

But this phalanx of oppressive and even demonic power does not make Jesus a helpless victim. Earlier in the Gospel, the Johannine Jesus had stated his freedom in the face of death: "This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father." (10:17-18).

Jesus confronts the powers with his sacred name: "I am"--the divine name which Jesus the Word reveals to the world. In the face of this, the powers of death wilt and fall to the ground--not once but twice. Jesus, not death, is in command here. He lets his disciples leave (18:8 - they do not flee as in Mark and Matthew's accounts) and he restrains Peter from any violence on his behalf.

Jesus will freely and willingly "drink the cup" of the passion because in so doing he fulfills his mission of revealing God's love for the world.

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