This morning’s installment from The Mockingbird Devotional comes from PZ himself.
And when those who were about him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. (Luke 22:49-51, RSV)
This exchange between Jesus and his disciples at an urgent and dangerous moment says more than just a “No” to taking matters into your own hands. It says a great “Yes” to healing, and loving, your enemy. (I resent this, by the way, about Jesus, as he always goes that extra step toward the crumb who hurt you.)
The disciples carry two swords among them, and like Ben-Hur, they are ready to give their lives in service of their teacher and friend. Peter is the one who by tradition takes instant aim at the high priest’s slave, and slices off the man’s ear. Jesus cries, Stop! Then he heals the stricken man. It’s in Mel Gibson’s The Passion, and you can still visit the actual scene, at the foot of the Mount of Olives.
Jesus forbids violence in his defense, and then takes that extra step. This is the rocky part. For myself, I am right with him on the passivity. We have seen and see every day what happens when you try to take matters into your own hands. The better way is to concede things, right down the line—“It’s out of my hands!” When you take things into your own hands, it always seems to backfire. Let things come to you. Let the result come to you. And if you’re in the wrong, let the result go the other way. I think all of us who embrace the iustitia passiva are with Christ here in this lightning encounter. Our theological and personal instincts run in that direction.
But there are limits, right? Do we really have to go the extra mile, and stitch up the minion who “vuz just folloving orrderz?”
The way to look at this is not to ask whether you or I can do it, whether you or I can take that extra magnanimous step. The way to look at it is rather to remember when you or I were in the body of that temple servant, that little man in service of the wrong who was nevertheless helped along to a better path. This is that one extra step—Neil Armstrong’s one small but giant step—in service of our fellow earthlings. We are not so much “Peter,” who needs to be instructed to put away his sword. We are “Malchas,” which is the traditional name given to the temple slave. “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” Come, Lord Christ, and help me get up. I am Malchas and my right ear is lying in a puddle of blood on the ground.
The other day I was with a depressed young man, age 29. His face was completely blank and he could barely get out a word. Turns out he is well educated, graduated from an excellent college, and has a skilled job. But he is depressed and needs help. How could I help him, as he was pretty alienating—no smile, no laugh, dead eyes, no affect of any perceptible kind? The key, for me, was relating to my own depression, my own personal history of depression. The man in my study didn’t have to know that, but my love for him was going to have to be tied to one thing: whatever identification I could effect with his disease. Thank God I could. The link was not whether I could reach out in my own strength to this affect-less person, but whether I could reach out to my own personal affect-less self. And that self exists. All I need to do is recollect one long night in Manhattan years and years ago when my wife went into a movie theater to see a movie with Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep and I couldn’t even go in, but pleaded depression and just walked around the block, at least 25 times, until the movie was over, and we could go back home. Stranger to depression? No. Possibility of connection? Yes.
This is how I can make Christ’s magnanimous gesture somehow my own.