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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

One Ear – Four Sermons


Mark 14: 46 – 49
46 Then they laid hands on him and arrested him. 47 But one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. 48 Then Jesus said to them, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? 49 Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.” 50 All of them deserted him and fled. (NRSV)

In the dark of the night, (note that in Mark it’s not a garden; it’s the “place of Gethsemane” (14:32)) the crowd has come to arrest him.  Led by Judas, the crowd sent by the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders (14: 43) has come armed with swords and clubs.  They violently seize Jesus and a melee breaks out!  Bodies are pushing!  Arms are flailing!  A sword is swung – it’s a clumsy attack by “a certain man” it’s unclear who.  But – Mark never uses “bystanders” for the disciples – and the only ones described as having swords in this scene are the members of the arresting crowd.  In the chaos, one of those who has come to arrest Jesus, has cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant.

Jesus stops the fight and criticizes the crowd, “Am I a bandit that you come with swords and club?  You could have arrested me any time in the temple.” And then you can almost hear the sigh of resignation to what he knows is to be his fate, “… ah, but let the scriptures be fulfilled.”

Then all of his disciples desert him.

Matthew 26: 50b - 56
Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. 51 Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. 52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?” 55 At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. 56 But all this has taken place, so that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled. (NRSV)

Mark’s unnamed bystander has now become an unnamed “one of those with Jesus.”  One of those who heard Jesus say, “Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also” (5: 39) now lashes out with violence to resist Jesus’ arrest. 

Yet Jesus stops the violent melee and turns it into a teaching opportunity.  He tells them that he could have called upon the Father to send twelve legions of angels(in post-exilic times it was thought that one could pray for God to send angels to assist in such manners – II Maccabees 15: 22 – 23).  He upbraids the disciples for failing to understand his teachings.  “All who draw the sword will die by the sword.”  And then, as so often the case in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus affirms that this happens to fulfill the scriptures.

 Jesus also criticizes the arresting crowd as well, “Have you come with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit?  And he affirms to them as well that even his arrest fulfills the words of the prophets. 

Then all of his disciples desert him.

Luke 22: 49 – 53
49 When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, “Lord, should we strike with the sword?” 50 Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51 But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. 52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders who had come for him, “Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit? 53 When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!” (NRSV)

In Luke, the disciples are quick to realize that things are turning ugly and they ask Jesus, “Should we strike with the sword?”  Jesus has already spoken to them about swords this evening.  When he sent them out for mission once before they took neither purse, nor bag, nor sword, but tonight he warned them that they should have everything they need: purse, bag, sword.  And they (like us) didn't quite get it (for it is a confusing passage) and said, “Look, here are two swords!” to which Jesus said, “Enough of that!”

Now the moment of violence approaches, “Lord should we strike now” and even before the question is fully out of their mouths one of the disciples (still unnamed) lashes out and strikes off the high priest’s servant’s ear.  Jesus stops the violence, “No more of this!”

In Luke Jesus has been given the power of the Lord to heal (5: 17) and as he does so often in Luke’s gospel, Jesus changes this moment of violence and suffering into a moment of healing.  He touches the servant’s ear and heals him.

Then he castigates the arresting crowd – the chief priests, the officers of the temple police and the elders who had come for him “Have you come with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit?”  But even in this he surrenders himself to them for their hour, and the power of darkness.

John 18: 3 – 11
3 So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4 Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” 5 They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.”Jesus replied, “I am he.”Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. 6 When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they stepped back and fell to the ground. 7 Again he asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” 8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.” 9 This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken, “I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.” 10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. 11 Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (NRSV)


In John the previously unnamed disciple with the sword now becomes Simon Peter – and the unnamed high priest’s servant now gets a name as well: Malchus.  Peter – who frequently acts first and thinks later (maybe) lashes out with the sword that he has handy (but where has this sword come from?  This is the first time John has mentioned it…) and strikes off Malchus’ ear. 

Jesus commands Peter to put the sword away, put it back in its scabbard.  In John’s gospel Jesus knows what is coming. He seems to know everything. He is not surprised at his arrest.  He’s the one who went out to meet the crowd.  And he will not shrink from drinking the cup that the Father has given him.

Later, Simon Peter will be confronted by a relative of Malchus – but there instead of lashing out to defend Jesus, he will deny ever knowing Jesus.


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