There are a number of minor characters who appear in the Passion narratives in all four gospels. They seldom get much attention. So this Lent I want to try to see these invisible people of the Passion and imagine events through their eyes.
Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, ‘No more of this!’ and he touche his ear and healed him. (Luke 22:50,51)
My name is Malchus. I am the slave of the high priest Caiaphas, one of the most powerful Jews in Jerusalem. I watch out for things that affect my master’s business. I go places he cannot go. I pay attention to the things my master is not able to see.
Lately I had been following this man Jesus, listening to his teaching, watching how he behaves with people.
Caiaphas believed Jesus was a dangerous man. He was convinced Jesus wanted to overthrow the Romans and destroy the privileged position Caiaphas had secured for himself and all the religious officials around the temple. It was not an easy balance of power to maintain and the slightest ripple on the surface could indicate a storm brewing.
I was there when Jesus said,
No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. (Matthew 6:24)
It was pretty clear Jesus was not recommending obedience to Caesar. This sounded like the talk of a revolutionary. It felt like sedition. Was this man really encouraging people to turn away from Caesar and serve a master other than Rome? We all knew there was no power in the world like the power of Rome. As much as we might hate it, it was madness to think anyone could get free of the burden of Roman rule. Jesus sounded like a dangerous man.
So I watched and I waited.
I knew Caiaphas was scheming. He wanted to get rid of this menacing preacher. Caiaphas has ways of getting what Caiaphas wants.
He got his chance when Judas paid him a visit. I am still not sure why he did it, but Judas came to betray Jesus to the temple officials. I do not really think it was the money. Judas seemed like a haunted man, filled with doubts, uncertainties, and fear. Some have suggested since that day that Judas was hoping to force Jesus’ hand, make him come out and announce his kingdom and overthrow the Romans. If that was Judas’ goal, he was a fool and a terrible failure
On the night of the arrest, I went along with the soldiers from the temple. I knew something important was happening. They waited until it was dark and then headed out heavily armed marching through the streets of Jerusalem until we got to the Garden of Gethsemane on the outskirts of the city.
At first it was hard to make out anything. The garden was filled with shrubs and trees casting dark shadows from the light of the moon. Some of the soldiers carried torches; their flickering light created menacing patterns on the ground.
But Judas seemed to know where to go. He led the troops confidently forward into the centre of the garden. There we found a small group of men. As we approached they got slowly to their feet. They looked as if they had been sleeping. They were a pitiful motley little crew. They obviously had no arms and no ability to defend themselves or their master.
Judas hesitated when we reached the group. He looked confused for a moment. Then he turned to the right and walked a few metres towards a low bush, where a man sat on the ground looking up at the approaching soldiers and temple officials. As they came nearer the man stood.
I knew immediately that this was the hunted fugitive we had come seeking. Judas stepped towards him and greeted him with a kiss. But Jesus turned towards the soldiers and asked,
‘For whom are you looking?’ They answered, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus replied, ‘I am he.’ (John 18:4,5)
It was such a strange moment. You would have thought Jesus was the one in charge of this whole affair. He seemed completely in control. He was not disturbed or agitated. He was quite calm, unlike the temple officials and their band of soldiers who appeared nervous and confused. They obviously found the whole affair tremendously distasteful.
Jesus’ followers who had gathered around their master seemed equally agitated. They did not know what to do. They muttered among themselves; but no one did anything.
That’s when things got really crazy. One of Jesus’ followers had a sword. Before anyone could do anything, he pulled it out and started swinging it around.
Unfortunately, I got in the way of that sword. It went right down the side of my head and sliced off my ear. I closed my eyes and fell to my knees holding the side of my head. Blood was gushing everywhere. The pain was searing; it ran down the side of my head and into my chest. Everything started to go black. The sounds of shouting and the clamour of arms grew suddenly distant. It was as if I had been cut off from the world. I knew I was fainting.
Then, as suddenly as the pain had started, it stopped. I felt a warmth on the side of my head and a peaceful presence radiated through my whole being. I opened my eyes and looked up. Someone was touching the side of my head. Our eyes met and I knew it was the man we had come to arrest. I looked into his eyes and felt I was falling into a deep well of compassion.
He took his hand from my head and reached out to help me to my feet.
The soldiers rushed forward. They bound him and dragged him away. I was stunned. The silence of the garden surrounded me. There was only the discordant sound of marching feet and clanging armour as the soldiers marched away with their prey. Jesus’ followers must have all fled when they saw me fall. It was quiet. I was alone.
I reached up to the side of my head. My ear was there perfectly intact. The only sign there had ever been a wound was the blood drying on my cloak.
I have never forgotten that day. They executed the one who healed me.
I had to return to my employer. I still work for Caiaphas. I have never told him about what happened that night in the garden. He would call me a fool and beat me. But I carry the vision of those eyes deep in my heart. I feel in some strange way that one day I will see those eyes again. And, although I am still a slave, I experience a freedom that no high priest can ever take away.