People of the Passion: Malchus

Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s slave and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus- John 18:10 RSV

Servant of the High Priest

When the Temple guards arrive in Gethsemane to arrest Jesus, among them is a person referred to as the servant, or slave, of the High Priest. John is the only evangelist who provides the name of the servant: Malchus. Perhaps this was because John knew the man personally. (In the Gospel according to John, the “other disciple” who accompanies Peter to the house of the High Priest in order to witness the trial of Jesus is “known” to the household and allowed to enter. It is generally accepted that the “other disciple” is John himself, so it would make sense for him to know the High Priest’s servant personally.)

Captain of the Guard

Most adaptations of the Passion tend to interpret servant simply as “someone who serves in some capacity.” Thus, Malchus is usually shown as a member of the Temple Guard. In Louis de Wohl’s historical novel The Spear, Malchus is captain of the Guard, and was originally dispatched to arrest Jesus when He was preaching in the Temple and was almost stoned for saying that He existed before Abraham. Like The Spear, the History Channel miniseries The Bible presents Malchus as captain of the Guard while the Passion of the Christ presents him as a minor member. The only exception to the presentation of Malchus as a member of the Guard I could find is this video, presumably from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. 

All four Gospels record that one of the disciples of Jesus cut off the ear of Malchus (or at least part of it). Only the Gospel according to John identifies that disciple as Simon Peter. Thus, Malchus is the sole victim of the sole abortive attempt by one of Christ’s disciples to save him from arrest and eventual execution.

In the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus heals Malchus by replacing his ear. This is the first of three ways in which Luke’s Passion Account differs from the other Synoptics. The Gospel according to Luke, which is the only one that includes the parable of the Prodigal Son, is often referred to as the “Gospel of Mercy.” In each instance, Christ is shown demonstrated mercy or consolation to someone in the course of His Passion. This first instance is notable, because Christ shows mercy by healing someone who has been wounded in the process of arresting Him, an arrest that will lead to His death. Here, as in everything He does, Christ shows us a perfect example of how to live. In this case, He radically practices what He preached when He said, “Love your enemy and do good to those who persecute you.” Healing the ear of Malchus is the last miracle that Jesus performs before His Resurrection.

Afterward

malchus
Roberto Bestazzonni in The Passion of the Christ

Scripture makes no mention of Malchus after the arrest of Jesus. For some reason, no detailed tradition has risen up around him as it has other minor figures in the Passion narrative. In The Passion of the Christ, Malchus stays kneeling on the ground dazed, in the exact spot where Christ healed him, for several moments before being roused by one of his comrades. In The Spear, Malchus is mentioned, alongside Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, as part of the crowd listening to Peter preach on Pentecost. It is implied that he is baptized (presumably by the man who sliced off his ear 53 days earlier!) and becomes a Christian. In her Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, (which both The Spear and The Passion of the Christ use as source) Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich wrote, “Malchus was instantly converted by the cure wrought upon him, and during the time of the Passion his employment was to carry messages backwards and forwards to Mary and the other friends of our Lord.”

In The Bible miniseries, he is still in the employ of the High Priest after Pentecost and gives the order for Peter and John to be flogged after their arrest. If that was what actually happened, perhaps it simply took him a little bit longer to come to the light. Perhaps, witnessing such a change in Peter and the other Apostles from what Malchus briefly witnessed in the Garden, sealed the deal on a nascent belief he had nurtured since that fateful night. Being healed of a grievous wound by the man whom you were sent to arrest would undoubtedly have had a profound effect on Malchus. It is highly unlikely that he would have been unchanged or continued in opposition to Him after His Resurrection.

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