"Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant's name was Malchus.) Jesus commanded Peter, "Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?" John 18:10-11
The arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane after his betrayal by Judas, is for me, one of the most tragic scenes in Scripture. It's interrupted by a curious little scuffle between Peter and Malchus, the high priests servant, which brings some brief comic relief to the tragedy.
Either Peter was a poor swordsman or Malchus was good at ducking, but I doubt Peter was aiming for his ear. Jesus rebukes Peter, tells him to put his sword away and promptly heals the servants' ear. I have some questions about this scene. Was there a brief search for the missing ear? Did Jesus clean off the blood and mud before sticking it back on? Did it fit on properly or a bit skew? I'm curious.
Whatever the case, while Peter's intentions may have been noble in protecting Jesus, his approach was as poor as his aim. He was tone deaf as to what Jesus actually needed him to do. Jesus did not need a militant bodyguard at this time. He needed Peter to be a resilient disciple who would support him in his resolve to drink the cup the Father had given Him, and follow him in the way of the cross. Instead, Jesus had to clean up Peter's militant mess.
Until recently I had never made the connection between Peter's inappropriate militancy and his sleepiness just hours before in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus had warned his disciples to, "Watch and pray so that you do not fall into temptation." He had not asked them to pray for Him. He had asked them to pray for themselves. Three times he had returned from his own prayer to find them sleeping, Peter included. Isn't there such a stark contrast between Peter's spiritual passivity and his inappropriate militancy in the Garden of Gethsemane? He has done exactly what Jesus had warned him about. He has fallen into temptation and acted rashly in the flesh because of his prayerlessness. Peter must have been so disappointed at the healed ear and the rebuke. After all, he was just trying to serve Jesus!
Now I want to draw a parallel between Peter's inappropriate militancy and what I have seen in the Church these past two years of social and political upheaval. I am going to make a statement that is clearly a generalization. I want to qualify it by saying that there are some notable exceptions, but by qualifying I do not want you to lose the force of my conviction in the statement. Here it is.
I have found, that by and large, the most causally militant Christians tend to be the most spiritually passive. They tend to be immature, lacking in spiritual disciplines like prayer, reading the Bible and fellowship. They are generally poor at receiving counsel from leaders or mature disciples in the church. They are hard to mobilize to service and mission. Yet suddenly, from this place of spiritual passivity, they are awakened to swashbuckling militancy in the Name of Christ. They think they are serving Jesus, but it actually results in a bloody mess that Jesus then has to clean up!
The cause differs. Some get militant about masks. Others about no masks. Some get militant about their chosen political party. Others get militant about their chosen conspiracy theory. Some get militant about getting the vaccine. Others get militant about not getting the vaccine. But almost without fail, the most militant people I know around these causes are some of the most spiritually passive. Their militancy is not a calling birthed out of prayer. It is a temptation birthed out of prayerlessness. It is a militancy marked by outrage and unreasonableness. Like Peter, their militancy may mean they are just steps away from a complete denial of Jesus.
Please note, I am not suggesting that we should not have strong convictions. All of us need to wrestle our way to conscience and conviction around masks, vaccines, race, politics and a whole slew of other disputable matters. I am also not saying that there are not just causes to fight for. However, unless our just causes are birthed out of prayer with other disciples we will get into the flesh and strike Malchus again.
The historic connection between justice and prayer in the Church is intriguing. William Wilburforce and his fight to abolish slavery, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his fight against Nazi Germany, Martin Luther King and his fight to end racial discrimination; all had different and just causes. However, all their movements had one thing in common. They were birthed and sustained in prayer amidst authentic Christian community.
Let's beware of striking Malchus out of prayerless militancy.
And let's not be tone deaf to what Jesus requires of us which is to follow Him in the way of the cross.