Part 3: Jesus tells his disciple to buy a sword?
We come to that famous passage in Luke 22 where Jesus tells his disciples to buy a sword.
35 Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”
“Nothing,” they answered.
36 He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. 37 It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’[b]; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”
38 The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”
“That’s enough!” he replied.
Here are two readings you may want to consider:
Earlier this week I engaged a political reading of Moses and the waters of Meribah from Numbers 20. My question was “why, if Moses was going to ultimately speak to the rock, did the Lord even mention the staff?” The answer was that it was a symbol of power to be carried – yes – but ultimately resisted in favor of a better present option that might be overshadowed by the most obvious option.
It takes strength to turn the other cheek. If you don’t have the ability to retaliate … it is just being a doormat or victim? That is how I have always thought about it.
In that perspective, I have read Jesus’ odd command with Peter in mind. I see that fateful night where Jesus tells him to ‘put away your sword’ and later tells the authorities ‘if my kingdom was of this world my followers would fight.’ The implication is that Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world and so his followers don’t fight.
The sword for the disciple, then, is what the staff was for Moses in Numbers 20: a powerful option to be resisted in favor of a preferable option that is less obvious because it is less forceful.
I used to reconcile ‘buying swords’ as a sort of object lesson or training excersise for the disciples. One lesson (trust and supply) is over – next lesson: You can’t resist temptation is one of the options is not even available.
Then, in 2007, I discovered that Biblical Scholars have a different way of handling the passage. Here is Ben Witherington:
Lk. 22.36-38. What is the meaning of this little story, taking into account the larger context of Jesus’ teaching? Vs. 37 is the key where Jesus quotes Is. 53.12—“he was numbered with the transgressors”. Jesus is saying to the disciples—you must fulfill your role as transgressors of what I have taught you!!! They must play the part of those who do exactly the opposite of what Jesus taught them in the Sermon on the Mount. The disciples become transgressors by seeking out weapons and then seeking to use them. This much is perfectly clear from the context for the disciples then go on to say “look Lord here is two swords”. They already have such weapons and Jesus responds in disgust to the fact that they are already transgressing his principles of non-violence by responding “that’s enough” (of this nonsense).
So either Jesus was saying that two swords was enough for the revolution (not likely) or Witherington has this right.
Conclusion: We have looked at these four famous passages now and it seems clear that although Jesus talked about swords and the writers of scripture utilized sword analogies, none of these passages is a validation of the type of violence these verses are used to justify.