The Word and The Sword


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 130; 148, 1 Samuel 9:1-14, Acts 7:17-29, Luke 22:31-38

After the Last Supper, Jesus tried explaining to the apostles yet again that terrible things were about to befall him and them. He also assured them he would not leave them unprepared. After all, hadn’t they survived – even thrived – when he sent them on the road to spread his message with nothing but the clothes on their backs? Now though, he said, it was time to take up their bags and purses and carry a sword, even if they needed to sell a cloak to buy one. When they pointed out the two already at hand, he told them, “It is enough.”

This idea of Jesus encouraging them to carry weapons really stands out among his teachings to turn the other cheek and love one’s enemies. Sometimes it’s used by people to justify Christians using violence, generally in self-defense but sometimes in more broad terms.

But there’s a greater context.

Jesus referred to a prophetic scripture from Isaiah  which needed to be fulfilled: “And he was counted among the lawless.” Moving from itinerant (if heretical) preacher and his followers to the leader of a party of armed insurrectionists had “lawless” covered. And only a short time later, when Peter actually used one of those swords to defend his messiah, Jesus commanded him to put it away, adding (in Matthew’s gospel), “all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” And the Apostles were famous for their commitment to peace, not their handiness with blade, club, and fists.

We don’t have to assume a position of pacifism to understand Jesus’s advice to take up swords was not about condoning violence. On the other hand, while Jesus talked about loving and forgiving our enemies, he didn’t command us to surrender to them. Wherever our conscience takes us regarding violence and non-violence, we should remember that Christ is fully capable of defending himself or not as he chooses. Our fears never justify initiating violence in his name. To the contrary, times of fear are the times we most need to take a breath and ask ourselves how Jesus would choose to love.

Comfort: Jesus is with us in times of danger.

Challenge: When you must make decisions about violence, make decisions about love first.

Prayer: Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts (Psalm 139:23).

Discussion: What are your feelings about the intersection of violence and faith?

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