And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve arrived, and with him a crowd with swords and cudgels from the chief priests, and the experts in the law, and the elders. The betrayer had given them this sign. “Whom I shall kiss,” he said, “that is he. Seize him and take him away securely.” So when he had come, immediately he stepped forward. “Rabbi!” he said–and kissed him as a lover would. They laid hands on him and seized him. One of those standing by drew his sword and struck the High Priest’s servant and cut off his ear. Jesus said to them, “Have you come out with swords and cudgels to arrest me as you would come against a brigand? Daily I was with you teaching in the Temple precincts, and you did not seize me–but, let it be, that the scriptures may be fulfilled.” And they all left him and fled.
Here is sheer drama and, even in Mark’s economy of words, the characters stand out before us.
(i) There is Judas, the traitor. He was aware that the people knew Jesus well enough by sight. But he felt that in the dim light of the garden, with the darkness of the trees lit in pools of light by the flare of the torches, they needed a definite indication of who they were to arrest. And so he chose that most terrible of signs–a kiss. It was customary to greet a Rabbi with a kiss. It was a sign of respect and affection for a well-loved teacher. But there is a dreadful thing here. When Judas says, “Whom I shall kiss, that is he,” he uses the word philein (GSN5368) which is the ordinary word. But when it is said that he came forward and kissed Jesus the word is kataphilein (GSN2705). The kata- (GSN2596) is intensive and kataphilein (GSN2705) means to kiss as a lover kisses his beloved. The sign of the betrayal was not a mere formal kiss of respectful greeting. It was a lover’s kiss. That is the grimmest and most awful thing in all the gospel story.
(ii) There is the arresting mob. They came from the chief priests, the scribes and the elders. These were the three sections of the Sanhedrin and Mark means that they came from the Sanhedrin. Even under Roman jurisdiction the Sanhedrin had certain police rights and duties in Jerusalem and had its own police force. No doubt an assorted rabble had attached itself to them on the way. Somehow Mark manages to convey the wrought-up excitement of those who came to make the arrest. Maybe they had come prepared for bloodshed with nerves taut and tense. It is they who emanate terror–not Jesus.
(iii) There is the man of the forlorn hope who drew his sword and struck one blow. John (Jn.18:10) tells us that it was Peter. It sounds like Peter, and Mark very likely omitted the name because it was not yet safe to write it down. In the scuffle no one saw who struck the blow; it was better that no one should know. But when John wrote forty years later it was then quite safe to write it down. It may be wrong to draw a sword and hack at a man, but somehow we are glad that there was one man there who, at least on the impulse of the moment, was prepared to strike a blow for Jesus.
(iv) There are the disciples. Their nerve cracked. They could not face it. They were afraid that they too would share the fate of Jesus; and so they fled.
(v) There is Jesus himself. The strange thing is that in ill this disordered scene Jesus was the one oasis of serenity. As we read the story it reads as if he, not the Sanhedrin police, was directing affairs. For him the struggle in the garden was over, and now there was the peace of the man who knows that he is following the will of God.
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