The Cyrenian Cycle: Malchus the Slave

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Cyrene, city on the coast
Of northern Africa, could boast
Her poet Callimachus — and
Her son, Carnéadés, the grand
Philosopher who founded an
Academy in Greece, a man
Who plundered Stoics just to mock
Their certitudes — and then the Rock
Named Eratosthenes who knew
Geography, and overthrew
The chief, it seemed, of ev'ry art
And science in the world. The heart
Of all Cyrenians would leap
And every hand would rise and sweep
In praise at every mention of
Their heroes and the ancient love
Of honor, power and fame

— except
The Jews, the little band who kept
Their adoration for the One
Who made the stars and moon and sun
And all philosophers and arts
And poets, and ten thousand parts
Of earth and water, fire and air.
There was a fav'rite Jewish prayer
In that great city with its fame
And history. Jews used to name
Their God against Cyrenian pride
And say, "Tis better to have died,
O God, than drink Cyrenian wine.
Did you my tongue for this design?
Cyrene is not Jesse's Stem,
Nor is this place Jerusalem.
If I desire her vanity,
Cut out my eye that I might see;
If I cast off the truth of old,
Cut off my hand that I might hold;
If I forget the promised land,
Cut off my foot that I might stand;
And if your promise disappear,
Cut off my ear that I might hear."

Three hundred years the Jews had stood
Against the force that takes the good
And dresses it like clowns, and crowns
The evil like a king with gowns.
Three hundred years since Ptolemy
Had shipped them like commodity
And merchandise from ports of Tyre
And Alexandria. The fire
Of faith burned brightly where
The prophets and the law and prayer
Were heard in synagogues each week
Among the temples of the Greek
And Roman pantheon of gods.
No great Cyrenian facades
To mark the places where the Word
Of the Creator God was heard.
Just every seventh day a glad
And sober band of people clad
For worship made their way to small
And simple synagogues, where all
Would listen to the promises
That Christ would come, just as it says.
And they would pray, "Come, holy Light,"
And tell their children that it might
Be soon. "Messiah may this day
Be born in Bethlehem." And they
Would say, "When this One shall appear,
The eye and hand and foot and ear
He will make whole, and what we've lost
He will restore — nor count the cost —
A thousand fold." And even some
Cyrenians — the poor — would come
And listen to the hope, and not
A few believed, and took their lot
Among the seed of Abraham.

Rufina saw the pious sham
In all the shrines, and loved to tell
How she came into Israel.
She was an African, and not
A Greek or Jew by blood, but got
Her fathers from the ancient race
Of Lybia. "It's all of grace,"
She used to say, "that Greeks should take
My land, and then, for my own sake,
Deport the Jews from far away
That I might know the one true way
To God: the One who comes to bear
My sins and all my sorrows share."
Rufina was a widow and
Three sons would leave her ancient land
And break her heart, before a strange
And awesome providence would change
Decades of weeping into joy.

First Simon left, the oldest boy.
He said he wanted land and fields
And lots of property that yields
A lavish crop and brings good rents
From lodgers who will live in tents
And do the farming work. She woke,
And he was gone, and never spoke
A single word.

The second son
Was violent. His way of fun
Was playing soldier in the square
And robbing helpless children there
At dagger point. Rufina tried
To reprimand her son, but pride
Raged like fire, and he was gone.
And like the first, from that time on
He never would return. His name
Was Lucius. Military fame
Was all he dreamed; and so before
He left, his little brother bore
The imprint of revolt.

When he
Was five he snuck away to see
The harbor and the ships, and there
The sailors stole him on a dare,
And sold him for a captain's slave.
His name was Malchus, and the grave
Of his young father drank the tears
Day after day through all the years
Rufina knelt there pleading for
Her boys.

Some twenty years or more
Went by, and every day, she kneeled
To pray for Simon, that the field
Would fail and put him in the way
Of God; for Lucius, that he slay
No more, and from his blood-soaked feet
Look up and there behold the sweet
And tender face of God; and then
For Malchus time and time again
That somehow, somewhere he might live
To be a man, and God might give
To him an ear to hear the Word
Of truth and set him free. "I've heard,
O God," she prayed, "that when the King,
Messiah, comes, he will unbind and bring
The captives from their chains, and take
Their sins upon himself, and make
His righteousness their own. And so
I pray, O God, that you would go,
And find my boys, where they are lost
And make their paths by his be crossed."

And so it came to pass that in
God's providence, Malchus, too thin
For rigors on the sea, was sold
In Palestine at six years old.
The wife of Annas bought him at
An auction with a simple vat
Of tanner's oil. She wrapped him in
A priestly robe and took his thin
And swarthy little frame into
Her arms and carried Malchus through
The country up from Ascalon.
That year the king would place upon
Her husband's back the robe, and choose
Him: Annas, High Priest of the Jews.
And so the boy grew up a slave
To priests, and learned how to behave
And what to say and what to wear,
Like other unbelievers there.
For over twenty years he served
The priestly house, and there observed
Precisely how to keep the face
And every surface clean. The place
Was like a stainless marble stone
Upon a grave, and every bone
Within hypocrisy. Each year
Beneath the holy Word the ear
Of Malchus hardened to the truth.
What mattered both in age and youth
Was that you keep your fruit unpeeled,
And everything within concealed.
It took him twenty years perhaps
To learn how not to feel. And gaps
In his protection slowly closed
His heart, 'til every act was posed,
And every tender part was seared,
And every promise disappeared.

The night was cold and fear hung in
The air. Old Caiaphas had been
The High Priest now for fifteen years
And bore the burden for these fears
This night, because he plotted all
Week long to bring about the fall
Of Jesus in the garden where
He always met his men for prayer.
The plan was that the priests would stay
Behind and Malchus would convey,
With Judas' help, the Roman troop
To find the messianic group,
Perhaps in prayer, and take them bound
To Caiaphas.

Of course the sound
Of such a movement through the night
Was heard, and there was time for flight,
Or readiness to fight. But now
The time had come when Christ would bow
Before his enemies and pierce
Their hearts with something far more fierce
Than hate or stealth or any sword.

So Judas came and kissed the Lord.
At first this was beyond belief
To Peter. Yes, perhaps a thief,
But not a traitor, not a vile
And wicked rat! And with a smile!
To take three years of truth and grace
And throw it back in Jesus' face!
He pulled his sword and would have slit
The throat of Judas, but he hit
Instead the side of Malchus' head
And severed his right ear. And red
With blood he fell at Jesus' feet.
In that split second of deceit
And vengeance, Jesus raised his hand,
And no one moved. He loosed the band
Around his cape and knelt beside
The bleeding slave, and then, to hide
His face, he made a covering
Out of his cloak, and like a wing,
He spread it over both of them,

And there outside Jerusalem,
A thousand miles from where he strayed,
The Lord touched Malchus' ear and prayed,
"If he desires her vanity,
Cut out his eye that he might see;
If he casts off the truth of old,
Cut off his hand that he might hold;
If he forget the promised land,
Cut off his foot that he might stand;
And if your promise disappear,
Cut off his ear that he might hear.
Amen." And then the Lord arose
Alone, and yielded to his foes.
And everyone departed, but
For Malchus on the ground.

He shut
His eyes and felt his ear. And then
From deep within, the great "Amen"
Of Jesus broke like heaving waves
Inside his heart. Like opening graves,
The joy of life spread through his soul,
And Malchus' heart and ears were whole.

With advent candle one, rejoice
In this: When every hopeful voice
Is still, and we are deaf, and dead
To promises, and filled with dread
That in Gethsemane we will
Do some great sin, know this: the skill
Of our physician is not less
Because we have no ears. Confess
Your dullness and prepare for steel:
The Lord will hurt that he may heal.