I’ve been reading in Luke – a gloriously happy account of the gospel. Of course, once you get to the Passion end of the book, it isn’t quite so glorious; in fact, I quite dread reading about the injustice and trauma inflicted upon my Lord. But today, I want to pull one more happy-ish thing from even that awful scenario.
Jesus has been talking with the disciples about two different mission approaches: take nothing, God will provide and go prepared. In Luke 22 He even tells them to sell something and buy a sword, probably talking about the supremacy of being armed in God’s Word; whereupon they produce two actual swords and He says, ‘Forget it.’
The disciples might not have understood all that Jesus was trying to tell them, but they knew enough to be depressed; when they fell asleep in the garden of Gethsemane, swords and all, they were worn out with sorrow. Jesus wakes them up and chides them for leaving their posts at crunch time, and enter Judas, with a lynch mob. Such was Jesus’s nondescript appearance that Judas had to physically identify Him to the crowd.
Peter, always gung-ho and, tonight, emotionally overwrought, had a mistaken ‘This must be what the SWORDS are for!’ moment, and lops off the ear of Malchus. What does Jesus do? Emit a war cry? Charge the mob? No. He reaches over to this arresting officer and heals his ear.
This strikes me as an arresting (pun intended) piece of generosity. Malchus was the servant of the high priest. Since he was close enough for Jesus, under arrest, to reach his ear, we can surmise that he might have been what we would call a bouncer, currently engaged in wrenching Jesus’s other arm. The Jews wouldn’t have had any kind of military or policing arm under the Romans, but what they were permitted was religious leadership (a small miracle in itself). And so it would make sense for the high priest/s to have a coterie of big guys, lackeys, fanatical yesmen, and a veneer of wisdom in the Sanhedrin to lend credibility. It would be important to keep the Romans pacified, to keep them onside, lest the miracle disappear; and so some level of collaboration (especially financial) would need to take place. This is what makes it so monstrous that they had the hide to look down on people like Matthew and Zacchaeus, the tax collectors. The main difference between them was that Matthew and Zacchaeus were open thieves. Possibly all of them, to some extent, took money from Jewish pockets to line Roman ones and their own.
So Jesus is being strongarmed by this guy Malchus; one of Jesus’s hotheads lashes out with the pointy end and relieves Malchus of an ear; and Jesus’s response is to restore the ear. I do wonder whether He picked up the fallen ear and ‘glued it on,’ or produced a third one ex nihilo!
The idea I want to bring out of this story may be reaching a little, but see if it works for you.
There are times when those who work for Jesus get hot-headed. There are times when they wield the Word of God like a cutting instrument. Some of them do this with expert training, others with none. Some do it incisively, like a surgeon bent on helping us, and some do it wildly, like a fanatic on the loose. Many of us have been damaged by ill-applied Scriptures – taken out of context, taken out of historicity, mistranslated, blandly applied broadside in lieu of a bandage, sent in to do a needle’s work with an axe. Occasionally this even happens maliciously, with the intent to wound. But most of the time, it’s someone who loves God and has just gotten carried away. The Word may be right, but the circumstance is not. Job’s friends come to mind: spouting all kinds of things about God that sounded true, but had absolutely no bearing on what had caused Job’s situation. Applying equations (‘sin + judgment = suffering, therefore suffering = sin + judgment’) is not the same thing as walking the journey with God and with your friend. As Brooke Fraser sings of Him, ‘You are so much more than arithmetic.’
We’ve all been that bigmouth from time to time. The good news is that Jesus is about restoration. Yes, also about agenda; but the terrible agenda of that day was still one that had its roots and branches in restoration. I want to posit that for all of us who have wounded others with our misapplied Scriptures, there is a Saviour who has paid for our mistakes and is willing to forgive them. In His grace we humble ourselves and go on to do better on the next round, and perhaps offer restitution to the one we hurt.
And for all of us who have suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous leadership, who are afraid to trust the Word of God because it has been used in such an ugly manner, afraid to listen for His voice because His representatives have shredded us with theirs – there is a Redeemer who wants to reinstate our ability to hear Him clearly. He is the restorer of broken walls and the rebuilder of communities. He restores the years that the locusts have eaten. And if He heals the ear of His aggressor, how much more will He be willing to heal the ear of His dear child?