In which the brave disciples attempt a daring rescue of their Master
When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.
Impetuous Simon Peter, presumably, reacts to the dramatic nighttime arrest of Jesus by unsheathing his sword and attacking the servant of the high priest. Unaccustomed to swordplay (he is a fisherman, not a soldier), he clumsily severs the ear of the servant. But he has made a statement. “My master will not suffer humiliation! My master will not die this way!”
Two thoughts from this passage:
1. This scene is a watershed event in the development of Christianity. Imagine the alternative scenario: a completely different, false form of Christianity, in which preserving the life and “honor” of the Master is paramount. The story would unfold like this: The disciples’ brave rescue works; they escape Jerusalem with Jesus and bring him safely to Galilee, where he continues his ministry. The disciples establish a fortified city at Capernaum, amassing wealth from raiding the caravans that pass along the north shore of Galilee. They collect more swords, more disciples, and gain political and military power. Eventually Jesus passes away. The disciples create a shrine at his tomb. The essential form of this new pseudo-Christianity is established — a personality cult built around a persuasive, charismatic philosopher, and now a growing political force in the eastern Roman Empire.
Instead, at this critical moment, Jesus rebukes Simon Peter, orders him to put away the sword, and (in Luke’s account, at least) restores the servant’s ear. He summarily quashes the rescue attempt. He rejects out of hand the idea of preserving his own life, or of gaining power through violence.
(Now, for comparison, consider the early history of Islam. Muhammad’s reaction to opposition took his disciples in quite a different direction. Muhammad sent his disciples out – thus making them “apostles,” in the strictest sense of the word – to silence people who spoke against him. He amassed wealth and prestige through violence and theft, by raiding caravans. Eventually his movement became a powerful political force.)
2. Throughout Jesus’ ministry of preaching, he often used the phrase “Whoever has ears, let him hear.” This is an odd mode of expression, at least to modern Western readers. Who, after all, lacks ears? In the entire Bible there is only one example of “earlessness” — and it is this unfortunate fellow in Gethsemane, his tunic covered in blood, the servant Malchus.
Malchus is an unbeliever, possibly a Roman, whose greatest need is to hear the gospel. Instead, he winds up with his ear lopped off as a result of Simon Peter’s violent attempt to prevent the death of Jesus. But to the enlightened disciple, the death of Jesus is a welcome and necessary thing:
“We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”
2 Corinthians 4:10
To Paul, the beneficial action of the death of Jesus on his human fleshly habits rendered him more and more effective in promulgating the gospel message of new life.
How often have I tried, through physical force, to prevent the death of Jesus in my own life? How often do I choose to preserve my personal honor, when dishonor is what God is calling for? Every time I choose to protect myself, I drop the cross that Jesus commands me to take up:
” The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life… If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”
Most importantly, how does such a choice affect the message that others hear from me? I believe that when I choose self-defense, I effectively “cut off the ears” of those who might otherwise hear the gospel. When the Church chooses to become a political force rather than adhering to its charter (preach the gospel, care for the poor), her message becomes inaudible.