Since the Mockingbird Conference I have been exploring some of Thornton Wilder’s other plays from The Angel That Troubled the Waters, and there is one with which I particularly identified called Now the Servant’s Name Was Malchus.
The setting is heaven, portrayed as the “Father’s house with many mansions”, and the conversation is between Jesus and Malchus, the High Priest’s servant whose ear Peter cut off and who Jesus subsequently healed in the Garden of Gethsemane:
OUR LORD: …Now what is it that you want of me?
MALCHUS: …It’s…it’s hardly worth mentioning. Most of the time, Lord, we’re very happy up here and nothing disturbs us at our games. But whenever someone on earth thinks about us we are aware of it, pleasantly or unpleasantly. A sort of something crosses our mind. And because I’m in your book someone is always reading about me and thinking about me for a moment, and in the middle of my games I feel it. Especially at this season when your death is celebrated, no moment goes by without this happening. And what they think is, that I’m ridiculous.
OUR LORD: I see. and you want your name to be erased from the book?
MALCHUS: [Eagerly] Yes, sir. I thought you could just make the pages become blank at that place.
OUR LORD: Now that you have come here everything that you wish is granted to you. You know that.
MALCHUS: Yes, sir; thank you, sir.
OUR LORD: But stay a minute. At this season, Malchus, a number of people are thinking of me, too.
MALCHUS: Yes, Lord, but as good, as great. . .
OUR LORD: But, Malchus, I am ridiculous too.
MALCHUS: Oh, no, no!
OUR LORD: Ridiculous because I suffered from the delusion that after my death I could be useful to men.
MALCHUS: They don’t say that!
OUR LORD: And that my mind lay under a malady that many a doctor could cure. And that I have deceived and cheated millions and millions of souls who in their extremity called on me for the aid I had promised. They did not know that I died like any other man and their prayers mounted into vain air, for I no longer exist. My promises were so vast that I am either divine or ridiculous. [Pause] Malchus, will you be ridiculous with me?
As C. S. Lewis put it, Jesus is liar, lunatic or Lord, and each of us has to make up his own mind. Each of us places Jesus in one of these three categories, and two of the three are packed with ridicule.
But this is how Malchus answers Jesus: “Yes, sir, I’ll stay. I’m glad to stay. Though in a way I haven’t any right to be there.”