Peter was a fisherman, not a swordsman. I’m sure Malchus, servant of the High Priest, was glad about that fact when Peter’s sword swung toward his head. Or maybe later, when his ear was healed, and he’d had time to think about it, he realized Peter probably wasn’t actually aiming for his ear.
The disciples brought two swords with them to the Garden of Gethsemane that fateful night before Jesus’ crucifixion. Just before they left the upper room where they had observed the Passover, Jesus told them,
“But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.”
The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”
“That’s enough!” he replied. –Luke 22:36-38
So we can’t blame Peter for pulling out one of the swords when confronted with a whole detachment of soldiers, along with officials from the temple. All those guys were carrying torches, lanterns, and/or weapons (John 18:3). In some of the other gospels, Jesus even mentions the weapons:
“Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me?” –Mark 14:48
Peter had been nervous
since the triumphal entry.
Peter was tense. He already knew something was going to happen on this night. Jesus had been praying unlike they had ever seen Him pray before. And just a couple of days earlier, Jesus confessed His trepidation (John 12:27-28). Perhaps Peter had been nervous since then. After all, what could possibly make the Messiah troubled except the battle for His Kingdom?!?
- After the crazy week they’d witnessed…
- After the guilt of falling asleep when he was supposed to be watching (Mark 14:32-42, see also The Spiral Slide of Temptation)…
- after Jesus told them to get swords…
Well, I would have clumsily drawn my sword, too. But then, you all know I identify profoundly with Peter.
That’s the emotional stage, but let’s set the scene. Judas, the disciple-turned-betrayer, led a whole posse of people into an olive grove outside Jerusalem to arrest a man who’d been in their midst every day. Jesus stepped forward to meet them and, even though He knew exactly what was happening, asked the question anyway,
“Who is it you want?”
“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.
“I am he,” Jesus said. –John 18:4-6
When Jesus says, “I am,” everyone fell on their butts. Seriously. Read the rest of verse six yourself.
Then the exchange was repeated. Was everyone still sitting down? Probably. That’s why it was so easy for Peter to reach that guy’s ear.
Can you see Peter doing the mental math as he reaches for the hilt of his sword? If Jesus could feed 5,000 with five loaves and two fish (John 6:1-13, see also Lose Your Lunch), then he could defeat a detachment of soldiers with two swords, right? (A ‘detachment’ may have been 600 men!)
Who held the other sword? Was it Andrew, Peter’s brother? Maybe James, one of the ‘Sons of Thunder’?
Peter pulled out his bulky sword and rushed forward. I imagine he held the sword over his head, then brought it down toward the head of the first person he encountered. That just happened to be Malchus, a servant of the high priest. No wonder people recognized Peter in the high priest’s courtyard later that night! (John 18:15-27, see also Rethinking Peter’s Denial.)
Jesus immediately told him to put the sword away and restored Malchus’ ear (Luke 22:51). If this wasn’t so serious, it would be funny. What was Peter aiming for? Did he expect to cut off Malchus’ head? Was he going for the shoulder, maybe trying to sever his sword-wielding arm? I don’t know. But it’s a good thing for all of us that Peter had such bad aim!
It wasn’t just in swordsmanship
that Peter’s aim was off.
It wasn’t just in swordsmanship that Peter’s aim was off. He was headed in the entirely wrong direction for establishing Jesus’ Kingdom, too.
In fact, the night before, when the disciples counted their swords (Luke 22:38), Jesus hadn’t been speaking quite so literally. Early the next morning, He told Pilate,
“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” –John 18:36
Surely, in that moment, Jesus was thinking about Peter, who had fought.
But they didn’t need swords to fight for Jesus’ Kingdom.
All those chapters of talking and praying (John 14-17), and what does Peter take away? “Bring a sword.” (To be fair, that was the last thing Jesus said. Sometimes I only remember the final words, too.)
Peter isn’t alone. We all
tend to jump to conclusions.
Peter isn’t alone. We all tend to jump to conclusions. In Peter’s case, it drew blood, but at least his haste wasn’t fatal.
There have been areas in my life where I similarly misheard Jesus. You too? Has He been pointing you down a certain path but you can’t get past the logical, common sense alternative you’ve always believed to be right? I like to call Jesus’ path, uncommon sense.
Whose ear will you cut off before you get what He’s really saying?
What element of this story or of Peter’s personality strikes you in this moment of the gospel narrative? Who do you think held the second sword? I would love to hear from you in the comments below!