Reopening our doors

His Name was Malchus

His Name was Malchus
April 14, 2017
Passage: Isaiah 52:13-53:12 Psalm 22 John 18:1-19:42
Service Type:

The slave’s name was Malchus.


Why do we need to know the name of the slave?


Some say that Malchus became a member of the community that followed Jesus. Maybe he became a friend of the Beloved Disciple whom we call John, the eyewitness who was the primary source for the Gospel of John. When we meet Malchus, he’s a slave, or a servant, of the high priest. That might mean he was on a career track, maybe in line to become a priest himself. If so, he would need to have a whole body without deformities to enter the holiest places – cutting off his ear would be a quick way to end his career.


‘Malchus’ is a name that means ‘king’ or ‘kingdom.’ So … Peter attacked the kingdom of this world. He struck violently against the forces of darkness and evil that were closing in around Jesus. The arresting party had to bring lanterns into the garden – artificial lights – because they were trying to extinguish the Light of the world. And so we might be tempted to cheer Peter’s violence: he makes sense to us; we have met this man. How many of us have inwardly hoped for a violent end to our enemies?


“If you do that, I’m going to kill you!” we say, and we tell ourselves that we don’t mean it literally.


But we feel it literally. Am I the only one in this room who has wanted someone to be hurt, and hurt badly?


But Jesus wants none of this. In Luke’s account, Jesus heals the servant’s ear. In John we hear his rebuke of Peter: “Put your sword back into its sheath,” he says to Peter. “Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?”


Peter didn’t yet understand that the Light of the world does not overcome anything with violence.




The rabbi’s name is Daniel.


Last month, Rabbi Daniel Weiner's synagogue, Temple de Hirsch Sinai, three miles from here, was vandalized. The graffiti on the wall of their temple read, "THE HOLOCAU$T I$ FAKE HI$TORY," with the letter S's changed to dollar signs, alluding to an old bigotry about Jewish people dishonestly pursuing wealth. A thoughtful neighbor who discovered the vandalism quickly hung a sheet over it that read, "Love wins," but Rabbi Daniel had that sheet taken down. He said, "[The sheet] was a very sweet gesture and touching, but we took it down ... I think it's extremely important that people see this [vandalism]."[1] The temple waited a day to remove the graffiti.


It is a particular form of madness to identify the Jewish people as antagonists against Christians, or to say that it was Jews who were responsible for the death of Jesus, who was a Jew himself, executed by the Roman state. Anti-Semitism has many sources, and nobody knows the religious beliefs of the vandal of Temple de Hirsch Sinai. But these sentiments are turning up in our culture more frequently these days, and Christians have done their part to target Jews as enemies, as persons who merit abuse and persecution. We must face, and we must critique, the anti-Jewish sentiments in our tradition, and the roots of this prejudice in our scripture.


Speaking about the Holocaust in 1945, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower said, “The things I saw beggar description…the visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering…I made the visit [to Ohrdruf Concentration Camp] deliberately, in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations to propaganda.”


We are living in that future. The Holocaust is being dismissed as propaganda by a startling percentage of our fellow citizens.


“Put your sword back into its sheath,” Jesus says. Tonight we gaze at the Light of the world shining from a cross, a tool of state-sponsored execution. Tonight we proclaim that the Light of the world does not overcome anything with violence.



The student’s name is Varisha.


Varisha Khan is a senior at the University of Washington. This past January, she had planned to attend Saturday midday services at her mosque in Bellevue. She soon discovered that it had been burned in an act of arson. “It was really my second home,” Khan said. “I was crying for quite a while.”[2]


The person who burned this mosque was a disturbed homeless neighbor with a criminal record born of mental illness, someone who wasn’t connected to a hate group, someone who didn’t necessarily intend to damage a Muslim house of worship because it was Muslim. But we do not live in such an innocent time that we can dismiss this casually as an isolated incident, a fluke. Like Black churches and Jewish temples, Muslim mosques are targets of violent hatred.


“Put your sword back into its sheath,” Jesus says. Tonight we gaze at the Light of the world shining from a cross, a tool of state-sponsored execution. Tonight we proclaim that the Light of the world does not overcome anything with violence.



The way Jesus overcomes evil and death is very odd, and, let’s be honest, a little unsatisfying.


Many of us might like to see a different kind of triumph. We might like our thirst for violence to be quenched by our hero trampling down the forces of evil and death in a stirring ending of a blockbuster movie. We might like to slice off the ears of our enemies, to cast them out, to overwhelm them with ‘shock and awe.’ (We might also like to decide who our enemies are.) But our savior wants none of that. Our savior does not overcome anything with violence. Our savior, shining in triumph from the cross, is trampling down not those we perceive to be our external enemies, but the forces of evil and death that lurk within us, the toxic violence that flows in our own hot blood.

Our savior saves us from ourselves.


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