Unlike Jesus’ first miracle when, astonishingly, He changed many large jars of water into wine, or unlike some of the succeeding miracles and signs He performed before His followers, Jesus’ last miracle may seem small by comparison. Yet it is just as indicative of His nature as is any of the acts of compassion carried out during His ministry. In some ways, this small, final miracle may show Jesus’ nature even more than the others.
All the Gospels describe the arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane before His crucifixion. All of them also relate that, in the tense moments of the arrest, one of Jesus’ followers drew a sword and severed the ear of a man named Malchus, a servant of the high priest. John’s Gospel reveals the impetuous Peter did this and was stopped from further violence by Jesus (John 18:10). It is unlikely that Peter was aiming at the servant’s ear, of course. The injury was probably sustained when Peter swung with the sword at the man’s head, and Malchus ducked, narrowly avoiding death but sustaining the loss, or partial loss, of his ear.
It would not be surprising if this non-life-threatening injury had been ignored in the turmoil that must have accompanied Jesus’ arrest, but Luke adds a detail in this regard that none of the other Gospel writers has. Luke tells us that Jesus “touched the man’s ear and healed him” (22:51).
We must see this miracle in context. Jesus knew the terrible death that awaited Him and had only just finished the agonizing prayer in which His sweat was “like drops of blood” (v. 44). When the soldiers and officers of the high priest came upon Jesus in the darkness and sudden chaos of the arrest, His mind must have been full of what was happening and what was about to happen to Him. Humanly, anyone in this situation would hardly be thinking about one of the minor figures among the arresting group who was hurt in the tumult.
Yet the mind of Christ was such that even within this dark and emotionally swirling night, despite the shouting, running, and confusion that ensued, Jesus noticed the one who had been injured. He focused on that and sought the man out, using the last miracle of His ministry to help an enemy. This was His last act before He chose to forgo any further use of divine power at His disposal so that He might go through the things He knew He must suffer.
Many of the miracles and signs wrought by Jesus during His human ministry show His compassion and care for others, but these were done in times of relative quiet and security. In Jesus’ last miracle, even as He was led away to death, He showed the mind that placed His own needs, His own self, not first but last.
R. Herbert (a pen name) holds a Ph.D. in ancient Near Eastern languages, biblical studies, and archaeology. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.