Reza Aslan’s reconstruction of the story of Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane is one of the most startling reconstructions in Aslan’s retelling of the Jesus story.

Aslan’s version is short and dramatic. Jesus

is praying when they finally come for him: an unruly crowd wielding swords, torches, and wooden clubs, sent by the chief priests and elders to seize Jesus from his hideout in the Garden of Gethsemane. The crowd is not unexpected. Jesus had warned his disciples they would come for him. That is why they are hiding in Gethsemane, shrouded in darkness, and armed with swords – just as Jesus had commanded. They are ready for a confrontation. But the arresting party knows precisely where to find them. They have been tipped off by one of the Twelve, Judas Iscariot, who knows their location and can easily identify Jesus. Still, Jesus and his disciples will not be taken easily. One of them draws his sword and a brief melee ensues in which a servant of the high priest is injured. Resistance is useless, however, and the disciples are forced to abandon their master and flee into the night as Jesus is seized, bound, and dragged back to the city to face his accusers. 146

The Garden of Gethsemane was a small area of land within Jerusalem not far from the Temple where Jesus and his disciples were in the habit of gathering. It was at best an inadequate “hiding place.” According to Aslan, Jesus and his followers are “ready for a confrontation,” “armed with swords” and “will not be taken easily.”

Aslan gives no explanation of the curious fact that none of Jesus’ disciples are arrested. This is surely a strange oversight on the part of the Temple guards who are determined to join the Romans and stamp out a dangerous and violent insurgency springing up among the Jewish people.

Aslan suggests that Jesus and his disciples “will not be taken easily.” And yet, even in Aslan’s imagination, the arrest of Jesus seems to be carried out with an astonishing lack of violence, considering that it was conducted by “an unruly crowd” coming against a well-prepared and armed band of determined revolutionaries.

Aslan’s understanding of the Gethsemane arrest of Jesus depends heavily upon Aslan’s reading of Luke 22:36b where Jesus is reported to have said,

‘But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one.

The disciples are “armed with swords – just as Jesus has commanded.” In his eagerness to portray Jesus as a violent revolutionary, Aslan ignores Luke’s suggestion that Jesus himself provided a rationale for the purchase of swords when he said,

For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, “And he was counted among the lawless”; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.  (Luke 22:37)

Jesus was apparently concerned that, after his arrest and death, his followers should understand that these were not random events. They in fact took place according to the design and plan of God.

Jesus, aware that the prophet Isaiah had foretold that the messiah would be “counted among the lawless” (Isaiah 53:12) orchestrated the situation in the Garden of Gethsemane in such a way that would lend credibility to the kind of fanciful interpretation that has so captured Aslan’s imagination. But the point was not to arm his followers for violent resistance but to demonstrate that God was indeed in control, even at this point of desperate treachery.

The disciples’ response to Jesus demonstrates their failure to comprehend Jesus’ deeper intention. And Jesus’ answer to them makes laughable any hint that Jesus’ intention was violent defense.

They said, ‘Lord, look, here are two swords.’ He replied, ‘It is enough.’ (Luke 22:38)

“Enough” for what? Certainly no true revolutionary could ever have thought that “two swords” would be enough to defend Jesus and his disciples against the violent intentions of “an unruly crowd wielding swords, torches, and wooden clubs, sent by the chief priests and elders to seize Jesus.

The point of Jesus’ statement about the “two swords” was to underline the fact that the events unfolding in the Garden and in the days following Jesus’ arrest, had a significance vastly beyond any historical movement on the material plane. The events of Jesus’ final days were shaped by a mysterious cosmic intention held in the unfathomable heart of God and only barely glimpsed by one who is determined to surrender to the mysterious workings of love.

Advertisements