The Betrayal of Christ, Jacopo Bassano. Image from Commons.wikimedia.org, public domain.
On Palm Sunday we heard the Gospel reading from Luke 22:47-51 about the angry mob coming for Jesus. There is one man in the mob that has always held my attention; the priest’s slave.
I imagine hearts quickened with adrenalin, eyes widened, and mouths ran dry with fear or anger. In front was Judas leading a priest who had decided this crime against God would end that day, and whose wrath had grown beyond reason. They and the mob’s hate grew with each step toward their target.
The priest’s slave, always at his master’s side, mirrored the priest. The slave too was on the front line. With his muscles taut, he anticipated protecting the priest or advancing the mob to do battle. He only needed the faintest cue from his master to act.
Then they reached the band of apostles. There stood Jesus, so calm, so self assured. The mob must have wondered, did Jesus not realize what they were going to do to him?
Words of accusation erupted. Suddenly a knife was drawn and the slave instinctively stepped in to shield the priest. Dropping his head to protect his neck from the blade he felt the heat of a glancing blow off the side of his cheek. With his head still cocked he stared in disbelief as his ear landed at his feet, blood dripping into the gravelly sand.
The slave stood and turned with fury in his eyes when someone yelled “Stop! No more of this.” The energy behind those words froze time; no one spoke, no one moved. The priest’s slave’s heart was pounding, his breaths short and rasping with anger and pain. The blood was running down his neck and made his tunic stick to his shoulder.
In disbelief the slave watched Jesus move toward him, toward his severed ear with dirt covering the bloodied end. Jesus slowly crouched andpicked it up, wiped the grit from it and standing stepped closer to the slave. Still, no one moved. Then Jesus with the ear cradled in his palm, touched the side of the slave’s head. I can imagine the slave feeling a cooling that eased the pain, felt the skin crawl and tingle as it mended, and heard a low hum as Jesus’ hand dropped away.
As Jesus stepped back the mob attacked and seized him. The slave stood still, confused, amazed, disoriented. He had not yet displaced his anger, the adrenalin still made his heart hammer in his chest and his breath short. But now his hands were trembling as he reached up and delicately touched what was his severed ear. He probably looked at his finger tips in disbelief, no blood. He probably touched the ear again and felt the heat of his fingertips on the lobe.
The slave more than likely watched the mob move away with their captive and listened to his master, the priest, yell for him to follow. The slave, his heart still pounding, may have wondered did they not see what just happened? Did they not watch him mend my flesh? Do they not realize that he really is the Christ?
I wonder what that slave thought and if he wept in hiding as he watched the crucifixion. I wonder if he, as a disciple, spoke the words of peace after experiencing violence.
Who was the man that received the last miracle Christ would bestow?