And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man. Seize him and lead him away under guard.” And when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” And he kissed him. And they laid hands on him and seized him. But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.” Mark 14:43-49
Some of you might be wondering why this version of the arrest does not tell us who struck the high priest’s servant by cutting off the ear, have Jesus correcting that disciple, or healing the ear of the servant. Let us look at the development of the arrest narratives in the four Gospels.
As I have said before, I believe John Mark was writing his Gospel between 50-60 AD, likely from Simon Peter’s perspective. As we see in his account of the arrest, it is pretty vague to the point where you do not know who strikes with the sword. Is it an apostle, other disciples, or part of the mob coming to arrest Jesus? Mark seems less concerned with the who and focuses on Jesus being no threat to warrant a rabble carrying swords and clubs as if he was a criminal (the Greek can also mean dissident). Jesus taught every day in the temple area; why not then? Mark ends with “…let the Scriptures be fulfilled.”
Matthew’s account, written shortly after the temple destruction within a decade or two later, clarifies that the sword swinger is one of those following Jesus, therefore a disciple but not necessarily one of the twelve. Whoever this person was is told to put away the sword indicating that this is not the way it needs to go down. Like Mark, there is no healing of the ear. (Matthew 26:51-52). Matthew appears to be focusing on Jesus as the teacher, and this lesson is for the apostles on how their mission must be one of peace; and how they are to teach those they will serve.
Luke seems to pick up on Matthew’s teaching perspective and adds the healing love of Jesus to the lesson. Like Mathew, he wrote between 70 to 80 AD and speaks of a disciple of Jesus striking with a sword and the Lord scolds those present, “No more of this!” Luke adds that Jesus touches and heals the ear of the wounded man (Luke 22:49-50).
Finally, we come to John, written in the 90’s (plus or minus a few years). Note: I believe the aging John dictated to a scribe who wrote in sophisticated Greek, likely Ignatius of Antioch, who, along with Polycarp, was a noted protégé of the Apostle. In John, the perpetrator of the violence is named: Simon Peter. You also get a bonus; the name of the wounded servant is Malchus. Once again, there is a scolding from Jesus but no healing. (John 18:10). John appears to use the contrast of Simon Peter violently lashing out with the timidity of the three denials that John seemed to have witnessed himself. Simon Peter goes from aggressor to denier. The theme will continue as Peter eventually becomes one who will become submissive in his service and death (John 21:15-19).
WHY the differences?
As the church developed in its theology and ministry, the varying details about Jesus’s arrest developed. It reveals a peaceful and loving teacher, healer, and savior who modeled for us what we are to be as we interact in the world. The unifying message from all four is that we are not to lash out when the world attacks Jesus and our faith, but to be people of peace and non-violence. (Sorry, Will!)
Lastly, I believe this is the incredible beauty and authenticity of the Scriptures because they do differ in some details, and the early church was not ashamed of this!
Make us a channel of your peace. Where there is hatred let us bring your love. And where there’s doubt, true faith in you. And where there’s sadness, ever joy. To be loved as to love with all our soul. And in dying that we’re born to eternal life.
I pray this in the name of the Peaceful Teacher, Healer, and Savior. Amen!