“I could be wrong to swing this sword, but swing it I will! Try to arrest my Lord, if you will, but this sword says that there will be blood!”
Was something like that going through the Apostle Peter’s head when, in the Garden of Gethsemane, he drew his sword and swung it to defend his Lord?
An armed “detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees” (John 18:3), lit with torches and adrenaline, had come to arrest Jesus. It seemed clear to Peter that this was the time to cock his sword, take it off “safety,” and swing. Or something like that.
I don’t think he was thinking much, just taking what seemed like a natural and reasonable defensive action. If he’d been more soldier than fisherman, would he have swung harder and taken better aim? Would Malchus, the chief priest’s servant, have been headless instead of just shorn of his starboard ear? Was the swing half-hearted? Or full-out but ham-handed?
I don’t know. I do know that Jesus quickly told the big fisherman to put away his sword: “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (18:11). And then the Lord miraculously, graciously, reattached the whomper-eared servant’s outer auditory apparatus. And that’s pretty much the last we hear about Malchus, his ear, and Peter’s sword.
I doubt that Malchus was a particularly bad guy. He was following the wrong leaders, but he had lots of company in that. He’d evidently done his job well enough that he’d risen to a position of responsibility. He must have been right amongst the front line of the arresters to have been such a readily available target for Peter’s blade.
I must admit that, from my childhood, I’ve always been glad that at least somebody that night did something that made some sense. Jesus will go quietly. He’ll let his enemies take him. He’ll be mostly mute while they lie about him, beat him, and taunt him. He’ll let them nail him to a cross and kill him. Before he dies, he’ll even ask his Father to forgive them.
I can’t imagine doing any of that. What I can imagine is joining Peter and adding to his sword any weapon at my disposal.
I can imagine feeling just as the disciples did. What we need is firepower! More swords! Jesus had entered Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna!” Wasn’t it time now for the revolution to begin in earnest, time for Christ to publicly establish his kingdom?
But they didn’t understand. And, admit it, it’s hard to understand even now.
Swords and their modern equivalents are quite necessary in this fallen world. One day, swords will be “beaten into plowshares” (and tanks turned into tractors?), but not yet.
And it still takes something called faith, as we wait for God’s kingdom to come in all its fullness and “every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord,” for us to realize that the “rule and the reign” of Christ in our hearts can begin for any one of us at any moment. Right here. Right now. We can experience his peace and his presence whether we are treated fairly, or get all of our rights, or are healthy and wealthy and comfortable, and in charge.
Though I’m immensely thankful for the nation in which I live, Christ’s peace can be full and rich in the hearts of his children regardless of their earthly citizenship or any external circumstances. His kingdom is far more powerful, more real, and infinitely longer lasting than the best, or the most evil, of earthly kingdoms. His peace transcends any time, any place, any circumstance.
Oh, we want justice and truth, and, yes, mercy and fair play, all to hold sway. One eternal day, they will.
Until then, I need to think a lot more about what it means for Christ’s kingdom to come—already, yet again, each day—in my heart.
It seems to me that right now, especially during this Holy Week, some more thinking about that dark night in Gethsemane, focusing on our Lord, and, yes, even pondering a bit more about Peter and Malchus, might be my Lord’s way to teach me how to be a better citizen of his eternal kingdom.
My ear is fine. It’s my heart that needs healing.
Copyright 2021 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.