It was just an ear. It was meant to be a whole head. It was a wild swing, and a quick reaction. The blade that wanted the whole head, claimed only an ear.
They had come for him. They had come for Jesus. They were going to take him away. It was more than Peter could tolerate. Out came the sword, and the fisherman turned disciple who suddenly thought himself a soldier swung at the nearest target.
Peter was impetuous and rash. He said things before he thought about them, sometimes he got it right and others were wide of the mark. He jumped out of boats with great enthusiasm, only to end up shivering and wet. What’s another mistake, even if it takes an unexpected and incredibly violent turn? Yes, incredibly violent is correct. Let’s not misimagine the intensity of those minutes.
At the moment of arrest, when Peter gripped the handle of his sword, and his wild swing severed the ear of the poor soul within his blade’s reach, his world had been crumbling around him.
The night crowded Peter’s mind; the words and events squeezed him until the parts that oozed between the crushing grip threatened to burst. Misunderstanding, disappointment, predictions of betrayal and denial, predictions of departures, failure of friendship and support, all within the span of hours.
All leading to this moment. They were here to take him away. The man on whom their hopes, personal and corporate, rested completely. Three years of rising hopes. Three years of expectation that hundreds of years of waiting was finally over. Anticipation that the country, the nation, would finally be what it should be, what it was meant to be. All of it was about to be bound and hauled away.
It was more than Peter could bear; so he did what he thought was right, what he thought he should. He couldn’t let the hope, the health, the life of the nation be taken away. Now was his moment when he would make up for his failures and prove his dedication to Jesus. Willing to die for Jesus; willing to kill for Jesus.
The blade came out. If it weren’t for a quick duck, and perhaps the inexperience of a fisherman, the wound would have been lethal. But the edge severed an ear, blood flowed, lots of blood.
In that startled moment, Jesus’s voice rang above the confused din. “Put your sword away!” The authority of the command stalled the moment. Jesus reached out to the bleeding man and, in a final miraculous act, healed him, restoring the severed ear. Then the crowd dispersed. Jesus, bound, was led away. The disciples, confused and afraid they would be next, fled into the night.
Peter was doing what he thought was right. The tide of teaching and healing had turned and now was the time for swords to clash. To claim, by whatever means necessary, what rightfully belonged to them, to return to days when their nation was their own. To take what was their God-given right to have.
In the couple thousand years since that bloody night in the garden when a follower of Jesus who had spent himself healing, decided it was time to hurt, frustratingly little has changed. At least it feels that way.
We’re still Peter. At least some of us. Sometimes it seems like most of us. Tired, confused, frustrated, aware of our faults and our commitments, desperate for what we know is good and right to finally prevail.
One thing has changed as the number of Jesus’s followers has grown. We’ve identified far more threats than a direct taking away of our Savior. Or, maybe more disconcertingly, we’ve identified Jesus with a wider variety of other issues. It’s not just Jesus that we draw our swords over; it’s anything that violates what we “know” is right.
And when, through laws we don’t agree with, rules on prayer in school, curriculum we don’t agree with or activism we believe is wrong, suddenly we turn those with opposing opinions into “they.” “They” come to take away our Jesus, we unsheathe and start to swing. When our vision of our nation or society is threatened, we defend it with a tenacity that, much like the crowd that fateful night who saw Peter’s blade in the moonlight, shocks those who witness it.
We do not wield the honed edge of a blade. But our loosened tongues and uncontrolled fingers on our keyboards can be no less devastating. No less vicious. Drawing no less blood. In righteous indignation that right feels like it becomes our cause and God’s will our desire, we go on the offensive to defend and protect Jesus. We can feel almost as if our hand has been forced, and so force we use.
How many ears have been separated? How many have suffered from the righteous zeal of a follower of Jesus who draws their sword to keep Jesus where they think he belongs? In a world that already needs Jesus, are we creating wounds that he must reach out and heal?
We are compelled by God’s standards, and our desire is to see his kingdom come, to live in a society that most reflects his values and his goodness.
But is it possible that our fighting over laws, our arguing over culture and societal norms are, like Peter’s desperate swing, actually hindering Jesus from accomplishing his plan? Are we, with our panicked and reactionary tactics, hurting those Jesus came to save? The very people, who with bills and laws, come to take him away are those who need him most, and they are the heads we swing for, the ones we wound, separating them even further from the one we know could heal them.
Fortunately, Jesus can still heal. But is he needing to heal the wounds his followers inflict.
Is Jesus telling us to put our swords away? Is he yelling over our shouting and noise of our clacking keyboards and megaphones?