I was invited by my alma mater, the Jesuit School of Theology, to provide a reflection on today’s readings for their daily Lenten email series, A Heart Renewed, which reaches over 4,000 subscribers. I’ll provide the readings and text here:
— 19 April 2019 —
IS 52:13-53:12; PS 31: 2, 6, 12-13, 15-16, 17, 25; HEB 4:14-16, 5:7-9; JN 18:1-19:42
I’ll apply an important lesson from my preaching class to this reflection: Your sermon should always provide good news to your listeners.
However, today’s Gospel reading is dark: betrayal, denial, interrogation, intrigue, blame, torture, hubris and the execution of Jesus… good news is not obvious. But, we can see the dimmest of stars on the darkest of nights. After reading the texts several times, I finally saw it, and it appears only in John’s account, “The slave’s name was Malchus.”
When we first hear about the band who came to seize Jesus, we’re told of soldiers and guards. Peter, passionate and impulsive, reminds us that anger often follows the path of least resistance. He draws a sword and attacks, but not a soldier, not someone of power. Peter attacks Malchus, a slave. Likely, Malchus was not there of his own accord and had no personal interest in the situation. He had done nothing. He was innocent. And still, Malchus becomes the target of Peter’s anger.
With all the events that needed to be written down for Good Friday, this Gospel writer could have easily omitted Malchus’ name. True, his name doesn’t add to the plot… but, it does add to the story. The author of this Gospel may have recorded the name of this vulnerable, powerless slave to remind us that Jesus cared about those who were vulnerable and powerless. Malchus will never be “forgotten like the unremembered dead.” Malchus is forever a part of the story. He was marginalized and brutalized, but then lifted up and remembered. Including his name reminds us that there are possibilities for hope where there is despair, for solidarity amid fracture, and for tenderness, compassion and recognition in times of great violence.
“The slave’s name was Malchus.”
Good and merciful God, help me to see when I am being like Peter, finding scapegoats for my anger and frustration. Give me the courage to oppose real sources of personal and social ill, and to discern the good, rather than the easy. Open my eyes and heart to those who, like Malchus, are oppressed. Lead me to bring justice and hope to our world. Amen.
Maureen K. Day, M.A. ’05, GTU/JST Ph.D. ’15
Assistant Professor of Religion and Society at the Franciscan School of Theology
A Good Friday, blessed Triduum and joyful Easter to everyone!