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HOW DID MALCHUS LOSE HIS EAR?
Lent: Minor Characters About Calvary. No 2
In the 16th Century England and Spain were deadly rivals. This continued in the wrestle for sea power, for trade in Europe and the new Colonies of the Americas. The defeat of the Spanish Armada under Queen Elizabeth 1st made the Spanish more determined to rule the seas to preserve Spanish trade ships bringing back to Spain the wealth of the Americas. In the 18th Century, fury in England reached it zenith, over tales of mistreatment of her merchant seamen.
The war took its name from Robert Jenkins, captain of the ship Rebecca, who claimed Spanish coast guards had cut off his ear in 1731. He exhibited the ear in the House of Commons and so aroused public opinion that the government of Prime Minister Robert Walpole reluctantly declared war. Basically, the war was one of commercial rivalry between England and Spain. Britain wanted to participate in the slave traffic with the Spanish colonies. So “The War of Jenkins’ Ear” began in Europe, merged into the War of Austrian Succession, and spilled over into the American southern colonies in a dispute over the boundary of Florida and Georgia. The citizens of Georgia and South Carolina invaded Florida. The Spanish retaliated by attempting to invade those colonies by sea. Governor James Oglethorpe invaded Spanish Florida, and a Spanish counterattack against Georgia and South Carolina was repulsed in the last battle of the War of Jenkins’ Ear in 1742. It is not surprising then that the cutting off of a man’s ear in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus was captured by the Temple guard led almost to widespread fighting and blood-shed.
1. BETRAYAL LEADS TO BLOODSHED.
The betrayal of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is well known, but in it is a minor character of interest. Matthew says: “While Jesus was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. Jesus replied, “Friend, do what you came for.” Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” At that time Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.”Judas pointed out the right man in the dark by kissing Him on the cheek. “Greetings, Rabbi.” “Friend, what have you come for?” Jesus is not seeking information as to why Judas has come, but he is administering a rebuke for He knows very well why Judas has come.
2. THE DISCIPLES WERE READY TO DEFEND JESUS.
Peter pulled out his sword to defend Jesus. A number of the disciples were armed. There is more than one sword mentioned. They had recognized the potential dangers and were ready. Luke puts it: 22:49 “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.” The disciples had swords. The action of Peter illustrates the curious combination of loyalty and obtuseness that characterized him. Realizing that Jesus was endangered, Peter was courageous enough to come to his defense and risk his own safety as he did later when he followed the guard right into the High Priest’s Courtyard. To this extent he justified his boastful promise that if all others should forsake Jesus, he would not. Peter was better as a fisherman than a soldier and missed his aim, cutting off the right ear of Malchus.
John tells us his name was Malchus.John 18:10 The grammar indicates Malchus was “the” leader from the high priest in this action and that he was in the forefront of the confrontation. John remembered the man and his name. This is eyewitness testimony. The disciples made many mistakes. They thought Jesus intended to establish an earthly kingdom. They failed to grasp the spiritual and eternal Kingdom proclaimed by Jesus. Jesus had predicted His death and forewarned the disciples, giving them extensive training for months, yet they refused to give up their pre-conceived ideas and accept what Jesus was saying about the eternal salvation through His death on the Cross. They also did not wait for instructions.
They acted on their own, took matters into their own hands. The disciples had asked, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” Before Jesus had answered, they went ahead and acted on their own. Those mistakes are frequently found among Christians today. The primary concern of Jesus was for the wounded man. Malchus’ life was changed forever by the man who was getting ready to die for him and the rest of the world. The touch of Jesus can change your life and heal your hurts. Why wasn’t Peter arrested? Probably because Jesus not only quickly cooled the situation but healed the wound. It was one thing to escort a non-resisting prisoner quietly into the city; it was another to escort twelve men, eleven of them ready to fight. Nothing happened so the disciples fled in the darkness. v56
3. JESUS NEVER NEEDS DEFENDING BY VIOLENCE.
When Peter cut off Malchus’ ear “Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him. 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? 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.”
Jesus’ command to Peter declared his disapproval of Peter’s sudden and violent intervention. Had Jesus desired defense, he could have summoned angelic aid, but he did not do so. Matthew 26:52–53 “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” expresses both the necessity of his suffering and his absolute commitment to the fulfillment of the Father’s purpose.
The word “cup” connects this statement with His prayer in Gethsemane. Jesus accepted the Father’s will and calmly moved to its fulfillment. He does not require that we defend him. T.S.Eliot, that great twentieth century American poet shows this in his “Gerontion.” (1920) He presents all the powers of evil as seen in the first World War confronted by a baby, born in a barn, “the word within a word, unable to speak a word,” the innocent Redeemer, swaddled now in the darkness of the world. But there was no need for us to protect Him: “In the juvescence of the year, came Christ the tiger.” You do not need to defend the Lion of Judah, you just let Him loose!
Some take Jesus’ response: “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” v52 as a call to pacifism, to give up completely all arms. Others observe that Jesus told Peter not to throw away his sword but to put his sword “back in its place.” Violence in defense of Christ is completely unjustified. We need to tell that to crusaders in every age, and in every place like Northern Ireland: He does not need us to defend Him. Jesus believes He could call for instant aid from his Father, but He bows to divine sovereignty in obedience to His Father’s will. Jesus was more interested in healing those who are hurt: “Jesus answered, “No more of this!” and He touched the man’s ear and healed him.” I believe we can defend the innocent when their lives are at risk from tyrants, but we must not pretend we are doing it to protect Christianity. Jesus Christ does not need us to use our little swords to defend Him. Instead, like Him, we should put our resources to touching the afflicted and healing the wounded.
The gospels speak no more of Malchus but it is fair to assume that his encounter with Christ must have left a lasting impression upon him. Jesus’ healing of Malchus, even in the midst being arrested, radically demonstrated the principle he himself taught: “Love your enemies, do good to those that hate you.” Jesus “touched his ear and healed him.” Malchus, who moments before by the swipe of Peter’s sword was condemned for the remainder of his time on earth to be without his ear, was now whole again.
Jesus amidst the savage crew of soldiers and high priest representatives, whose desire was to take Him captive, took time to heal the wounded. Took time to heal an enemy. Malchus was clutching the side of his head in anguish one moment, and the next, his hand gently touched the ear he’d lost, in amazement, for it was back in it’s rightful place.
Malchus went along with the other servants and guards in taking Jesus to the high priest. But what was going through his mind? He had just felt the power of God. He had been healed from a wound that would have haunted him for life. He was made whole again. We have no idea whether Malchus ever obeyed the gospel. We do know that he had reason to. He was a first hand witness, and recipient of the grace of God. Jesus healed his physical body. Did Malchus return for a spiritual healing as well? We hope so, but many of us have known the healing of Jesus, but have not responded in commitment to Christ. Do so now.
- Morris Jeffrey and Richard. “Encyclopaedia of American History”. New York: Harper Collins Publishers. ©1996.