This conversation went really well last week over at Homebrewed. I thought I would post it here in smaller chunks for anyone wanted to continue the conversation.
Jesus tells his disciples to sell their bags and buy swords. Why? And why then does he reprimand Peter for using a blade at the moment when it seemed to be most appropriate? Was Jesus being inconsistent? Did he change his mind in the moment? Was it a test? Did he set Peter up to fail? Why did he say that ‘those who live by the sword, will die by the sword?’ and then tell his disciple to buy them?
I am asked about Jesus’ relationship to swords as much as anything I get asked about. Good hearted people are quite baffled by the whole subject.
- Jesus did after all say that he came to bring a sword.
- As the word of God, he is said to be sharper than any two-edged sword.
- He is pictured with a sword coming from his mouth when he ‘returns’.
- and there is this matter of him telling his followers to buy swords
As a former apologist, I have gotten pretty good at helping the baffled work through these passages. I even has a presentation I do called jesuSword that incorporates Jesus, his words, and these passages about swords.
In order to facilitate a lively give and take, we will take this in 3 quick addresses over the next 24 hours.
Part 1: Jesus says that he came to bring a sword.
Matthew 10:34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— 37 Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
Is it possible that Jesus was being ironic and that his sword is actually an un-sword. I say this because Jesus’ sword does the exact opposite thing that normal swords do. His sword divides family. Traditional swords are used their swords to defend their kin and kind.
Jesus was using a play on words.
Jesus was using hyperbole. In his day swords were actually for defending one’s family – for guarding me and mine. In this sense, Jesus’ “sword” is an un-sword… or an anti-sword. It does the opposite of what human swords are used for. Jesus’ sword is not for defending family but for dividing family. Jesus did not come with a human sword but the opposite!!
John Caputo puts it this way:
The kingdom reigns wherever the least and most undesirable are favored while the best and most powerful are put on the defensive. The powerless power of the kingdom prevails whenever the one is preferred to the ninety-nine, whenever one loves one’s enemies and hates one’s father and mother while the world, which believes in power, counsels us to fend off our enemies and keep the circle of kin and kind, of family and friends, fortified and tightly drawn.”
If Jesus was being ironic or using hyperbole, it would make so much more sense than the way this passage gets used to justify violence and militarism.