I was sitting in my favorite coffee house the other day trying to study, and overheard a rather inflamed discussion a few tables away about how much harm Christianity in general and the Church in specific had done in this world. They rattled off the usual suspects: The Crusades, the Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, Abortion Clinic bombers, Southern White Slave masters, pedophile priests and the Republican Party.
I felt my face redden as this person railed against my faith. They kept talking about my faith as “those people” as if we were not a part of the human race. As if we had taken a sharp turn down our evolutionary tree and found ourselves out on a limb from which evil budded into the fruit of destruction. I wondered if they had ever actually spoken with a Christ-follower or were they just parroting their favorite critic of the Christian faith.
Should I invite them into a conversation? I bowed my head and whispered a prayer to the Father asking for grace to approach them, when the one that was the most animated glanced at their watch and said, “OMG! I am going to be late. I have to go.” Quickly, they scooped up their belongings and rushed out the door. I was relieved.
What about this idea that people dismiss Jesus and his claims based on what his disciples do in miss-guided passion? When people who claim to be followers of Jesus do bad things, is it because of His teachings, or is it in spite of His teachings? Jesus went against the conventional wisdom of his day by teaching, “…I tell you, love your enemies.” It is easy to love those who love us. It makes sense. But to love our enemies…that is a love beyond reason.
Speaking of enemies—When Judas betrayed Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane with a betrayer’s kiss, he was accompanied by the Temple guard and a contingency of Roman soldiers. When they came to arrest Jesus, Peter drew his sword and proved he was a better fisherman than gladiator and while aiming at the man’s throat, cut off his ear instead. Jesus rebuked Peter, calmed the mob and turned toward the wounded man named Malchus. This was an enemy if there ever was one.
The wound must have bled profusely. Red crimson spurted through his fingers as he instinctively placed his hand over his wound while blood flowed down his neck and jawline, matted into his beard, streaked down his neck and his robe growing wet and warm.
How long did it take for Jesus to stoop and pick up the severed ear, clean it off and place it back on the man’s head? Did he have to convince the guards he meant no harm before they would release his arms?
Jesus reached up to Malchus’ blood-stained hand pressed tightly in the garish gash where his ear used to be and gently pulled it away; muttered a prayer and healed the ear. The mob, for fear of further violence, jostled Jesus away to a trial and then to the cross where He died.
Malchus? We don’t know what happened to him. This incident is mentioned in all four Gospels and Luke calls his name but after that there is no further mention of him in Scripture, as far as I can determine, none in history. But he went somewhere. Back to a home, barrack or hostel.
“How was your day at work, Malchus?” asked his wife.
“Oh, pretty good. All things considered” he said with a rising lilt in his voice.
She layed down her spoon she had been stirring in a pot of stew. Looked at him,
“What in the world happened to you, Malchus?” she screamed when she saw the blood on his robe
“Interesting story…. I was attacked by a follower of the Nazarene, Jesus. The man had a vicious look in his eye that screamed hatred. I have never seen such uncontrolled rage in all these years in my garrison. This follower of the Nazarene was in a full-tilt rage. I never dreamed I would have had such violence done to me by a Christ-follower. The guy’s name was Peter. He was a fisherman from Galilee, I think. He took a swing at my head with a sword, I ducked but he cut off my ear.”
Then she asked, “I see the blood, but where is the wound?”
“Interesting story….You are not going to believe this, but when that fisherman cut off my ear and blood was squirting everywhere and people were screaming and swords were drawn; I heard Jesus say something about putting swords away. Then the next thing I knew Jesus had my severed ear in one hand and with the other he pulled my hands away from my wound. I looked into his eyes and saw the opposite of what I saw in his follower’s eyes. I saw such deep compassion and grace and love. He turned my ear in his hand; looked at it, brushed off a pine needle that had stuck to it and then, whispering something, pressed my ear back on my head. The bleeding stopped, he smiled at me and then they took him away.”
He paused and pulled on his ear and then said with a smile, “Say what you will about that violent fisherman, but there is something pretty amazing about that Nazarene.”
Of course I have no idea what conversation occurred between Malchus and his wife or friends. But the truth is pretty simple. Followers who misappropriate the theology of Jesus, and do unspeakable things in Christ’s name have been doing so for two millennia. That is a fact. No defending it.
However, those actions, severe and violent as they are, do not discount the validity of Jesus or his teachings. In fact, the healing of Malchus proves just the opposite. Jesus transcends his follower’s behavior, even his really good ones…like the Apostle Peter. Jesus rises above.
I love a comment by theologian Dale Bruner, “Jesus’ enemies are not his only problem.”
I wish I were a better ambassador of the Nazarene. I hope I get another opportunity to speak on His behalf in my coffee shop, I know what I would say to those two if I see them again.
Don’t judge Jesus by those of us who try to follow Him.