47 While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, 48 but Jesus asked him, ‘Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?’
49 When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, ‘Lord, should we strike with our swords?’ 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.
51 But Jesus answered, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.
52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, ‘Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? 53 Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour – when darkness reigns.’
Most scholars treat yesterday’s miracle of the healing of the blind man as the closing miracle of Luke’s Gospel, but then this appears. It’s an odd one. But would you believe this story is related in all four Gospels, though only in John are the characters named (Simon Peter chops off Malchus’ ear). And only Luke relates the healing.
It is also a miracle that I remember from when I was a young child. I don’t know why it should have captured my attention, other than perhaps the prospect of Jesus searching the ground by torchlight looking for a stray ear.
But as I read it today, I am struck by crowds and violence. Jesus remarks that they have come with swords and clubs (Luke 22:52). When the disciples discern that Jesus is to be arrested their initial reaction is to draw swords and though they look to Jesus for advice, before Jesus says a word someone strikes and a man is wounded.
This whole journey through Lent with the book of Luke is a journey of discipleship. Along the way we are encountering the wonder and the strangeness of Jesus, we marvel at his power and compassion, particularly for those who are on the margins. Again and again we are confronted with the challenge of following him and with question of just what will I surrender to join him on the Way.
The pressure has been building on Jesus and his followers for some time now. Many thought going to Jerusalem was a foolish thing but he was insistent. And now, following a meal which was full of all manner of hints of endings, they are in this garden in the dead of night where he has spent a long time in intense prayer. Luke records that in his anguish his sweat was like drops of blood (Luke 22:44).
And now this. A big crowd with swords and clubs and a kiss of betrayal.
I understand the impulse of the disciple. Under the shock of betrayal this is a common form of response. Meet the violence of betrayal with another form of violence. Perhaps it is even more true if it is a loved one who is betrayed and I must stand by. I want to strike out on their behalf to find some answer to the anger and sense of helplessness I feel.
But there is a Gospel message here. Meeting violence with violence is not the way of Jesus. His urgent command “No more of this!” speaks to the moment, but also for all time. No more of this. Ever.
No more to seeking God’s imprimatur on our national adventures of war.
No more to matching an eye with an eye or a tooth with a tooth. Nor here, an ear for a kiss.
No more to blind rage and vengeful aggression. No more to hard words which injure and maim the spirit of a person.
I dare say this poor servant didn’t have much control over what he was doing that night. After all, he was a servant, and he did as he was commanded. And he lost an ear. There is something symbolic here in a member of the high priest’s household lacking an ear. He stood in for a religious institution that couldn’t hear the truth of what was being said in the ministry of this man from God.
So Jesus in his grace and humility refuses to be vengeful or to take comfort in the suffering of his accusers, and instead he heals. There is still time for healing even after striking out in anger, frustration and revenge.
And so I ask myself after having reflected on this story. Which is the worst betrayal here? The kiss or the sword?
As I write this March 29th remains the day we exit the EU. So today is the day when the nation might be taking stock. Whatever happens a sizeable proportion of the country is going to feel betrayed, the question is what will be done with that sense of betrayal? Will we strike out at our betrayers? Or will we seek advantage through a lying kiss? Take some time today to pray for our political leaders and for those who feel betrayed by recent events.