Back in the fall we looked at a series entitled “The Divine Commodity” which took the art of Vincent Van Gogh, his life, the church, mission, consumerism and following Jesus, put it into a blender so to speak, and came out with a 9 week series.
During that series what was impressed upon me was the faith of Vincent Van Gogh, and his treatment at the hands of the religious institution. But he still continued a love for Jesus. But the story that most of us know, and probably has made this painter famous, is what happened on December 23, 1888Van Gogh, suffering from severe depression, cut off the lower part of his left ear with a razor while staying in Arles, France. He later documented the event in a painting titled Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear.
In the Scripture that we will be exploring together today, it is another story of a severed ear, not at the hands of the owner of the ear, but by a follower of Jesus. So open your Bibles, your iPads, phones or whatever you use to access the Scriptures and turn to Luke 22. I’m going to use several different verses within Luke 22.
So what is happening here in Luke 22? In the first part of Luke 22 Judas goes to the Chief Priests and Teachers of the law and agrees to hand Jesus over to them for some money, a total of 30 pieces of silver. And then he begins to figure out when and where to hand Jesus over to them. Right after that we see Jesus making plans with the disciples to share the Passover meal with them. This would become known as his Last Supper. They make preparations for the meal and then Luke records to story of his Last Supper with his disciples.
During the supper we see that Jesus takes the passover meal, which is the story of the people of God and freedom from Egypt, and reinterprets the bread and cup to be about him, his body, and his blood and his death on the cross. But the disciples, not surprisingly, don’t get it because right after the sharing of the bread and wine they begin to argue which one of them is actually the greatest in the Kingdom. Jesus again for them reinterprets what greatest means in His Kingdom, not being served but by being a servant.
Following Jesus’ response to their argument about who is greatest, he turns his attention to Peter and we read these words in verses 31-38, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.” Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” “Nothing,” they answered. He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’ and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords. “That’s enough!” he replied.”
So Jesus is praying for Peter that his faith wouldn’t falter. Now the context seems to be in connection with his denial of Jesus three times. I think that is the primary meaning of what Jesus is getting at. But I also wonder if it had to do also with the reaction of Jesus being arrested, and Peter’s always brash, without thinking attitude, and Jesus knowing that Peter may resort to violence to protect him. There is a possibility that Jesus was praying that Peter wouldn’t fall into the temptation to act out according to the ways of the Kingdom of this world. To resort to violence when presented with violence. To fight fire with fire.
So Jesus then says words that many have misinterpreted as Jesus calling his followers to actually arm themselves and resort to violence. In verses 36-38 we read, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’ and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”
The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords. “That’s enough!” he replied.” It seems like Jesus is actually calling for the disciples to arm themselves. The disciples obviously think that Jesus is getting them ready for an actual fight. If he actually meant for the disciples to pick up swords, and begin to fight to protect him, it would literally contradict every teaching that Jesus had ever taught. In fact, later on we see Jesus before Pilate saying that the proof that his Kingdom is actually not of this world is that he followers weren’t fighting to defend him.
We also see when the disciples say that they have 2 swords, Jesus says that’s enough. Jesus can’t mean that 2 swords will be enough to protect them from what is coming. I mean there were the disciples and Jesus and a mob each wielding clubs and swords. The disciples only had two. If Jesus expected them to use the swords, they would have needed a lot more. Again he isn’t suggesting that two swords would be sufficient for the job at hand. No, he is wearily putting a stop to the entire conversation in which at every part the disciples seem determined to misunderstand him.
So if Jesus isn’t saying for the disciples to actually take up arms and use them to fight violence with violence, then what is he saying. He answers our question when he says, “It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’ and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” Here Jesus is quoting from Isaiah 53:12. Greg Boyd says this, “to fulfill prophecy Jesus had to be viewed as a transgressor. He had to at least appear to be a political revolutionary to the Jewish authorities for them to feel justified in arresting him.” They need to appear as a threat to Roman rule. The had to appear to be a bunch of sword-yielding zealots in order for Jesus to be arrested, tried, and executed as a political threat to the empire of Rome. And the two swords were enough to fulfill the prophecy that Jesus was going to be viewed as a transgressor.
At the end of this part of the passage Jesus, after hearing the words, “Jesus we have two.” says the words, “It is enough.” And there is probably two meanings to his words. First, is the meaning of what I mentioned before, that two swords are enough for Jesus to appear as a political threat, and leading a band of sword wielding zealots, in order to be arrested. The second meaning of It is enough, means that’s enough of that conversation. It is obvious that the disciples didn’t understand Jesus, and were taking the sword talk literally, and they were ready to use the swords to enact violence on anyone who would come against them. And so Jesus is saying enough. Trying to remind his disciples of what the Kingdom of God is really all about. What Jesus had been teaching them from the beginning that the Kingdom of God advances not through killing the enemy but actually loving the enemy.
So after the disciples respond to Jesus and he tries to set them straight about their use of swords, they head out to the Mount of Olives. When they arrive he tells them to pray that they won’t fall into temptation. As I mentioned before with Peter, I am wondering what Jesus meant when he says to them, “Pray so that you won’t fall into temptation.” I believe the primary meaning has to do with the temptation to fall away, and stop following Jesus due to the persecution that is coming. But I wonder again if there isn’t a second meaning related to temptation and violence. That Jesus prayer for them not to fall into the temptation to respond to violence with violence. To fight the sword with the sword. To believe in the myth of redemptive violence.
And so Jesus goes to pray in the garden and the disciples fall asleep, not heading the words that Jesus says to pray. Once Jesus is done praying, Judas comes into the garden leading a band of men carrying clubs and swords in order to arrest Jesus, and begin the process that will lead to Jesus execution on a Roman cross. Judas then leans over and gives Jesus a kiss, a signal to the mob about who they were supposed to arrest.
Then we come to these 3 verses, verses 49-51 which says, When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.”
The disciples aren’t sure what they should do when confronted with the fact that the man that they had given their lives to follow was about to be arrested. That Jesus, who they had thought was going to reestablish Israel as a world power. That Jesus was going to deliver Israel from the hands of the Roman Empire. And that Jesus was the Messiah (which he was)- which to them meant a military deliverer who was going to crush Rome. And their world begins to crumble before them when the see Jesus being taken away, and their hopes being dashed to pieces. So they yell to Jesus, “Lord should we strike with our swords?” You know they were secretly hoping that Jesus would say yes. That they could whip out their swords and begin to use them to protect Jesus. His disciples don’t understand what Jesus Kingdom, his message of peace is all about. Their attempts at defending Jesus missed the point just as much as the swords and clubs of the mob.
And so before waiting for an answer, Peter, (we know it is Peter because of John 18:10) swings his sword and cuts off the ear of Malchus (we know from John 18:10 that Malchus is his name) the servant of the Chief Priest. Luke, with medical precision, identified the ear as the right ear. Assuming Peter was right handed the only way to cut off someone’s right ear in this manner is if you attack from behind. It’s likely- though not certain- that Peter attacked Malchus from behind. Peter tries to prove his faith with a sword, when he couldn’t prove it later with his tongue. The disciples expected a military revolution and Peter wanted it. Revolution through violence. Jesus did bring revolution through subjecting himself to the violence but never resorting to violence himself.
When Jesus sees what Peter did, by striking Malchus and cutting off his right ear, Jesus says “No more of this.” No more violence upon violence. No more tit for tat. In fact in Matthew’s account of this story Jesus replies, “all who draw the sword will die by the sword” Jesus is disarming Peter from the use of violence. In fact Tertullian, an ancient church father had this to say about this encounter, “In disarming Peter, Christ disarms all Christians.” Jesus again is reminding his followers (including us) that is kingdom is not advanced the the kingdoms and empires of this world. Rome’s empire was experiencing the Pax Romana, the peace of Rome, but it wasn’t truly peace because it was “peace” brought on by violence or the threat of violence. Rome said if you get out of line, if you rebel, you will be put on the cross. The Kingdom’s of this world use violence to advance their own kingdom’s. They believe that you can have true peace through the use of violence. But is that actual peace? Peace is never true peace if it is brought on by violence or the threat of violence. The Kingdom of God is advanced not by violence against enemies but by loving and serving enemies.
So Jesus tells Peter no more violence, no more bloodshed, this is not the Kingdom’s way. And to prove that the Kingdom of God is about love of enemy he heals the right ear of Malchus. This is the last miracle that Jesus would perform before going to the cross. During his own time of suffering and trial, he is still about healing and restoration. The interesting thing about this miracle is that it is so unlike any other healing that Jesus ever performed. You see all the other hearings were from people who came to Jesus in faith that they would be healed. Malchus didn’t have any faith in Jesus, and didn’t need healing until Peter cut off his ear. He came to be the ears and eyes of the Religious leaders and report back to the Chief Priest on the arrest of this political revolutionary. And he had his ear cut off. But Jesus couldn’t allow Peter’s violent response to stand. It would be contrary to everything that Jesus stood for. So he touches the ear and it was made whole again. It is reattached and he can hear. Even in this Jesus was present to clean up the mess, his disciples left behind. He healed the damage done by Peter.
Jesus modeled the way he would have his disciples respond to aggression by healing the servant’s ear. Disciples of Jesus are to serve, bless, and pray for enemies, not afflict them.
When heaven touched down on earth, a new way to respond to violence was born. When heaven touched down on earth, even enemies were healed. When heaven touched down on earth, enemies were loved instead of killed. When heaven touched down on earth, violence and sin was absorbed into Jesus’ body on the cross. When heaven touched down on earth, He called for all those who would follow after him to walk as he walked. To live as he lived. To love as he loved. And to pray, serve, bless and love enemies.
So let’s talk about what it means that Jesus healed the ear of a person who came to arrest him. Let’s unpack the two pieces of Scripture that we spent the most time looking at and see what they might say to each of us about living a Kingdom life in our world today. And let’s see what God might be saying to us and what we should do about it, both corporately and individually.
1. What do you think about the quote from Tertullian “In disarming Peter, Christ disarmed all Christians”? Is it ever justified for Christians to participate in violence?
2. Read Luke 22:36-38. What are your thoughts, questions, insights on this passage of Scripture?
3. Read Luke 22:49-51. What are your thoughts, questions, insights on this passage of Scripture? What does it say to you that Jesus healed the ear of Malchus and how does this influence the way you should live everyday?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?