Monday, August 1, 2011

Malchus: Beloved Enemy

What was the name of the servant who had his ear cut off at the time of Jesus’ betrayal? Malchus.

All four gospels record that when Jesus was seized, one of his disciples impulsively lopped off the ear of one of the arresting party (Matthew 26:51-52; Mark 14:47; Luke 22:49-51; John 18:10-11). Only in John’s gospel are the disciple (Peter) and the victim (Malchus) named (John 18:10). Some have suggested that John is able to name names because the involved parties were dead at the time of publication and no longer in danger of retribution. John’s account emphasizes Malchus’ name by deliberately adding the clause “and the slave’s name was Malchus” (John 18:10, NASB). Malchus is one of only two people healed by Jesus (not counting the resurrected Lazarus) to be named in Scripture (Mark 10:46; John 18:10).

Peter faced a crisis when Judas identified Jesus for arrest in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:49; Mark 14:45; Luke 22:7-48; John 18:1-5). Not thinking that Jesus’ story should take this turn, the impetuous disciple assumed that somebody had to do something. When faced with fight-or-flight response, Peter drew his sword to fight (Matthew 26:51; Mark 14:47; Luke 22:49-50; John 18:10). His blow severed Malchus’ ear. Luke and John specify that the right ear was lost (Luke 22:50; John 18:10), a fact that may indicate that Peter was left-handed as facing one another, Malchus’ right ear would be on the side of Peter’s left hand. Peter may have simply been an inept swordsman. Either way, Peter missed his target as he almost certainly was not trying to amputate an ear but rather to behead an enemy. In his mind, this was not a criminal act of murder, but a military act of war.

Malchus was a natural target. He was the symbol of authority, the servant of the priest orchestrating the arrest (Matthew 26:51; Mark 14:47; Luke 22:50; John 18:10). The grammar implies Malchus was the representative from the high priest in this scenario. Malchus means “counselor” or “king”. Ironically, he may have severed as the high priest’s eyes and ears during the arrest.

Have you ever acted impulsively because you thought somebody ought to do something? What would you have done if you were Peter? If you made the choice to attack, who would you have targeted? Why did Peter attack Malchus instead of Judas?

Peter’s assault of Malchus would likely have a started melee had Jesus not intervened because the culture advocated reciprocal justice, “an eye for an eye”, an ear for an ear (Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21; Matthew 5:38). Jesus makes it clear that though Peter is a fighter, Jesus is a lover. Jesus restores Malchus’ ear (Luke 22:51) and rebukes his advocate (Matthew 26:52; Luke 22:51; John18:11). Interestingly, only Luke notes that the ear was healed (Luke 22:51). Jesus hits the undo button and nullifies the harm that his charge had done. Mending Malchus would be Jesus’ last recorded miracle during his earthly life. In healing Malchus, Jesus saved Malchus from maiming and Peter from retribution.

Peter’s sword gave Jesus the opportunity to perform one last act of love as a savior to the world that would murder him. Jesus’ healing of Malchus in the midst of being arrested radically demonstrated his teaching to “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27, 35). It also knocked down the disciples’ last bastion of building an empire by force. Jesus never used violence. Unfortunately, there is occasionally a disconnect between Jesus and his followers and Christians have been known to utilize brute force.

Does Jesus ever need defending by violence? If so, when? When have Christ’s followers hurt you? How much of Christ’s work in the world is undoing the harm his followers have caused? How many Malchus’ ears caused by bold Peters has Christ not healed?

Malchus might have served as Jesus’ escort to the high priest. As the servant of one high priest and the patient of another (Hebrews 2:17, 3:1, 4:14, 15, 5:10, 6:20, 8:1, 9:11), Malchus was left to choose which high priest he would serve. The Bible leaves his decision open ended though the fact that his name lives on may be some indication of his choice.

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