When the Church Wounds People

Yesterday’s Gospel lectionary reading was Luke 22:39-51.  After Jesus prays in the Garden, Judas comes to betray him.  Then comes this amazing scene:

49When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, “Lord, should we strike with the sword?” 50Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. (NRSV)

Think about it: One of Jesus’ closest disciples (John says it was Peter), severely wounded someone who wasn’t a disciple.  Peter had good intentions:  He wanted to defend Jesus.  He wanted to show whose side he was on.  He thought he was doing the right thing – after all, Jesus had just told him to make sure he had a sword on him (22:36). 

How often do well-intentioned Christians end up severely wounding those outside the church?  They want to defend Jesus.  They want to make their message heard.  They think they’re doing the right thing.  But they end up slicing off ears instead of being faithful to Jesus.  I have a number of friends who have been wounded by Christians.  In turn, some blame the Church for what individual Christians have done.    To be fair, it’s not the fault of “the Church” or of Jesus himself, but of individual Christians like Peter who thought they were doing the right thing but did more harm than good.

I think this passage provides two words of encouragement to those who’ve been wounded by Christians:  (1) Jesus wants to heal those wounds.  Just as Jesus touched Malchus’ ear and healed it, so he can heal the wounds of those who’ve been wronged by his followers ever since.  Whether it was a relationship gone wrong, abuse, injustice, or any other unfaithful act by a follower of Jesus, Jesus wants to heal those wounds.   (2) Jesus’ followers aren’t perfect.  We’re not Jesus.  We’re just as much in need of Him as those outside the Church.  Even the most devoted disciples, or the most bold in demonstrating their allegiance to Jesus, will inevitably screw up like Peter did.  And when that happens, Jesus says “No more of this!”.  We have to pause and ask ourselves, “What are we called to repent of in our own actions that have wounded others?” And then we pray and trust that Jesus will heal the wounds we’ve caused.

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2 comments
  1. Thanks for this.

    Something I thought about yesterday when I read this was why Jesus told them to bring two swords in the first place.

    Reading your thoughts, I’m also thinking about the significance that it’s Peter who commits this act. Peter’s the rock upon whom the Church is built, and he’s wounding someone. I think that standing in solidarity with Peter and the apostles means standing in solidarity with wounding Christians; not by defending them, but by confessing on their behalf. Perhaps this is also why Jesus tells them to bring the swords. It fulfills the Scripture that He would be counted among sinners and places, which then places Jesus in solidarity w/ Peter and us; not by defending our actions but by healing and going to the cross.

  2. Our churches are filled with sword bearers…but not so many folks who are willing to 1) speak with authority against the violence we do to one another and 2) work towards the healing that Christ seeks for all of us.

    Good thoughts!

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