John XVIII. 1-12.
1. When the grand and lengthened discourse was concluded which the Lord delivered after supper, and on the eve of shedding His blood for us, to the disciples who were then with Him, and had added the prayer addressed to His Father, the evangelist John began thereafter the narrative of His passion in these words: "When Jesus had so spoken, He went forth with His disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into the which He entered, and His disciples. And Judas also, who betrayed Him, knew the place; for Jesus oft-times resorted thither with His disciples." What he here relates of the Lord entering the garden with His disciples did not take place immediately after He had brought the prayer to a close, of which he says, "When Jesus had spoken these words:" but certain other incidents were interposed, which are passed over by the present evangelist and found in the others; just as in this one are found many things on which the others are similarly silent in their own narratives. But any one who desires to know how they all agree together, and the truth which is advanced by one is never contradicted by another, may seek for what he wants, not in these present discourses, but in other elaborate treatises;(1) but he will master the subject not by standing and listening, but rather by sitting down and reading, or by giving his closest attention and thought to one who does so. Yet let him believe before he know, whether he be able also to come to such a knowledge in this life, or find it impossible through some existing entanglements, that there is nothing written by any one evangelist, as far as regards those who have been received by the Church into canonical authority, that can be contrary to his own or another's equally veracious narrative. At present, therefore, let us look at the narrative of the blessed John, which we have undertaken to expound, without any comparison with the others, and without lingering over anything in it that is already sufficiently clear; so that where it is needful to do so, we may the better answer the demand. Let us, therefore, not take His words, "When Jesus had spoken these words, He went forth with His disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into the which He entered, and His disciples," as if it were immediately after the utterance of these words that He entered the garden; but let the clause, "When Jesus had spoken these words," bear this meaning, that we are not to suppose Him entering the garden before He had brought these words to a close.
2. "Judas also," he says, "who betrayed Him, knew the place;(2) for Jesus oft-times resorted thither with His disciples." There, accordingly, the wolf, clad in a sheep's skin, and tolerated among the sheep by the profound counsel of the Father of the family, learned where he might opportunely scatter the slender flock, and lay his coveted snares for the Shepherd. "Judas then," he adds, "having received a cohort, and officers from the chief men and the Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns, and torches, and weapons." It was a cohort, not of Jews, but of soldiers. We are therefore to understand it as having been received from the governor, as if for the purpose of securing the person of a criminal, and by preserving the forms of legal power, to deter any from venturing to resist his captors: although at the same time so great a band had been assembled, and came armed in such a way as either to terrify or even attack any one who should dare to make a stand in Christ's defense. For only in so far was His power concealed and prominence given to His weakness, that these very measures were deemed necessary by His enemies to be taken against Him, for whose hurt nothing would have sufficed but what was pleasing to Himself; in His own goodness making a good use of the wicked, and doing what was good in regard to the wicked, that He might transform the evil into the good, and distinguish between the good and the evil.
3. "Jesus, therefore," as the evangelist proceeds to say, "knowing all things that should come upon Him, went forth and saith unto them, Whom seek ye? They answered Him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am [He]. And Judas also, who betrayed Him, stood with them. As soon then as He had said unto them, I am He, they went backward, and fell to the ground." Where now were the military cohort, and the servants of the chief men and the Pharisees? where the terror and protection of weapons? His own single voice uttering the words, "I am [He]," without any weapon, smote, repelled, prostrated that great crowd, with all the ferocity of their hatred and terror of their arms. For God lay hid in that human flesh; and eternal day was so obscured in those human limbs, that with lanterns and torches He was sought for to be slain by the darkness. "I am [He]," He says; and He casteth the wicked to the ground. What will He do when He cometh as judge, who did this when giving Himself up to be judged? What will be His power when He cometh to reign, who had this power when He came to die? And now everywhere through the gospel Christ is still saying, "I am [He];" and the Jews are looking for antichrist, that they may go backward and fall to the ground, as those who have abandoned what is heavenly, and are hankering after the earthly. It was for the very purpose of apprehending Jesus that His persecutors accompanied the traitor: they found the One they were seeking, for they heard, "I am [He]." Why, then, did they not seize Him, but went backward and fell, but just because so He pleased, who could do whatever He pleased? But had He never permitted them to apprehend Him, they would certainly not have done what they came to do, but no more would He be doing what He came to do. They, verily, in their mad rage, sought for Him to put Him to death; but He, too, in giving Himself to death, was seeking for us. Accordingly, having thus shown His power to those who had the will, but not the power, to hold Him; let them now hold Him that He may work His own will with those who know it not.
4. "Then asked He them again, Whom seek ye? And they said, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus answered, I have told you that I am [He]. If therefore ye seek me, let these go their way: that the saying might be fulfilled which He spake, That of those whom Thou hast given me I have lost none." "If ye seek me," He says, "let these go their way." He sees His enemies,(3) and they do what He bids them: they let those go their way, whom He would not have perish. But were they not afterwards to die? How then, if they died now, should He lose them, were it not that as yet they did not believe in Him, as all believe who perish not?
5. "Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it, and smote the high priest's servant, and cut off his right ear. And the servant's name was Malchus." This is the only evangelist who has given us the very name of this servant, as Luke is the only one who tells us that the Lord touched his ear and healed him.(4) The interpretation of Malchus is, one who is destined to reign. What, then, is signified by the ear that was cut off in the Lord's behalf, and healed by the Lord, but the renewed hearing that has been pruned of its oldness, that it may henceforth be in the newness of the spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter?(5) Who can doubt that he, who had such a thing done for him by Christ, was yet destined to reign with Christ? And his being found as a servant, pertains also to that oldness that gendereth to bondage, which is Agar.(6) But when healing came, liberty also was shadowed forth. Peter's deed, however, was disapproved of by the Lord, and He prevented Him from proceeding further by the words: "Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" For in such a deed that disciple only sought to defend his Master, without any thought of what it was intended to signify. And he had therefore to be exhorted to the exercise of patience, and the event itself to be recorded as an exercise of understanding. But when He says that the cup of suffering was given Him by the Father, we have precisely the same truth as that which was uttered by the apostle: "If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not His own Son, but gave Him up for us all."(7) But the originator of this cup is also one with Him who drank it; and hence the same apostle likewise says, "Christ loved us, and gave Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God of a sweet-smelling savor."(8)
6. "Then the cohort, and the tribune, and the officers of the Jews, took Jesus, and bound Him." They took Him to whom they had never found access: for He continued the day, while they remained as darkness; neither had they given heed to the words, "Come unto Him, and be enlightened."(9) For had they so approached Him, they would have taken Him, not with their hands for the purpose of murder, but with their hearts for the purpose of a welcome reception. Now, however, when they laid hold of Him in this way, their distance from Him was vastly increased: and they bound Him by whom they themselves ought rather to have been loosed. And perhaps there were those among themwho then fastened their fetters on Christ, and yet were afterwards delivered by Him, and could say, "Thou hast loosed my bonds."(10) Let this be enough for to-day; we shall deal, God willing, with what follows in another discourse.