There is an ear on a stained glass window here at St. Paul. Just an ear, with curves and crevices, floating in sea of brilliant blue glass. It sits underneath the image of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, to the left of the sword. Of all the images from that night of Jesus’ betrayal – a bowl of water, a loaf of bread, a rooster – I’ve always been curious why our forebears chose that ear.
It’s an ear written about in gospels, an ear connected to the body of a high priest’s servant, named Malchus. He was among the crowd who came to arrest Jesus. When they arrived, Jesus’ friend Simon Peter, full of fear and anger, pulled out his sword. As he slashed about wildly to defend Jesus, he cut off Malchus’ ear. Jesus immediately rebuked Simon Peter and told him to put his sword away. Then Jesus gently took that ear and put it back where it belonged. Jesus healed the man who would help lead him to his death.
I noticed that ear, again, as I walked along those windows just before Ash Wednesday worship last week. I’d just heard the news of yet another deadly school shooting and like many of us, was overcome with sorrow and fear, anger and shame. Seeing that ear drew me right back to that story of Jesus in the garden. While our weapons today are unimaginably more powerful than Simon Peter’s sword, our ears are still vulnerable, and our Savior’s power to heal remains strong, even in the midst of death.
Perhaps the pastors and artists in the generations before chose that ear to remind us how to live faithfully in the midst of a violent world. Those windows point us back to Jesus, whose living and dying show us a way of standing in powerful opposition to violence without participating in its hurt and hate. That ear invites us into a whole different way to live, not slashing about wildly in anger and fear, but living in care of the other, reaching out in healing, and courageous self-giving.
Here’s some lessons we can receive from that scene in the garden. First, we can take serious Jesus’ words and put away our swords. It doesn’t make sense to get rid of all the guns, but we can begin by advocating for background checks and a ban on assault weapons. A followers of Jesus, we do this not just because these things have been proven to make us and our children safer. We do it because our Savior repeatedly shows us that human lives are infinitely more valuable than anything we possess.
I imagine Jesus in that garden tenderly holding Malchus’ ear, with its curves and vulnerable skin. While threats and fear swirled around him, he steadily did what he always did: healed and loved people. Jesus spent his life tending to the bodies and hearts of vulnerable people; healing them, blessing them, honoring them, and nourishing them.
Our hope and our purpose in days like this is not to slash about wildly in fear and rage, but to work daily and deliberately to build a world where every life is valued and people have what is needed to thrive. Let’s follow Jesus in ways of self-giving and active love, defending the lives of one another as tenderly and courageously as he did that curvy, vulnerable ear.
–Sara Olson-Smith, associate pastor