As I was reading through the Passion narratives to prep for today’s post I was struck by an incident found in each of them; Peter cut’s off the ear of the High Priest’s slave, Malchus. Initially, I had every intention of writing about the Crucifixion – that is what this day is about, after all – but every time I encountered this story, the more compelled I felt to have it be the focus of today’s post.
Initially I wondered why Peter would attack a slave rather than the antagonist himself – Caiaphas. As I began to consider the situation, I came to recognize the virtual nesting doll of power dynamics at play. The first to consider, though not directly involved, is the Roman Empire’s occupation of Palestine and the crushing oppression the Jews experienced under it. Second is the religious hierarchy, of which Caiaphas is at the pinnacle. Finally, on the micro level, is the social hierarchy in which free men reign over the enslaved.
Taking all of this into consideration, I think it’s safe to say that Peter had a dilemma on his hand! Peter is human, wonderfully so – slow to understand, obstinate, immature in faith and though he is filled with heart and determination, he is still flawed. Further, he is a man, though free, living under a pretty brutal occupation. Much like the bully who is abused at home, Peter has not the fortitude nor the authority to confront his oppressor. Instead, like the school yard bully who pushes kids around, Peter lashes out on those whom he perceives as socially beneath him – a slave – effectively metamorphosing from abused/oppressed to abuser/oppressor. Thus, as the kids say, shit rolls down hill.
Peter was a figure I’ve struggled with for years, something about him rubbed me the wrong way and it took quite some time to figure it out. He is me…. he is all of us. Peter is the perfect mirror of ourselves, showing us all the shittiness of humanity but all the beauty of it, too. Here, Peter shows us how willing we are to sacrifice the lives and well being of others for our own needs/wants/desires. A prime example of this is the American culture of consumption. We devour what is new, trendy, cheap, convenient without every sparing a single consideration for the suffering of those who produce these products. Simply, no one spares a thought for the worker… we just want cheap jeans.
In direct contrast to Peter – and ourselves – is Jesus who not only stands outside these tangled webs of power, but effectively destroys them by reverting all power back to its source; God ( this is what he means when he tells Pilate he has no control over him save for what God has ordained). Once all power has been reverted back to God, then all temporal forms become meaningless, thus we are equal. Further, he rebukes Peter for his use of violence; “put down the sword.” Much has been made of this – especially by my own mentor – that this condemnation of violence is Jesus’ final commandment to the Church, and while I hesitate to stray from the path of my mentor’s teachings – I think something much more important is to be found there. It is not so much what Jesus say, but what he DOES. His final action is to heal Malchus’ ear – to restore his wholeness.
I think this final action is the most important thing we can do for each other – we are to heal each other. Jesus willingly went to the slaughter to ensure that we could do this for one another – is is the gift of the Holy Spirit.
So, on the evening of our beloved brother’s death, I send you all the love from my heart and invite you all to – in the words of Henri Nouwen – not be wounded wonders, but to be wounded healers. Don’t let shit roll down hill.