Monday, June 19, 2017

Was it time to fight? (Answer: no)

35 And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” 36 He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” 38 And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.” (Luke 22:35-38)
This is a very strange passage. For many reasons. It is sometimes used by those who are anti-Christian to argue that Christians are called to violence. What else can Jesus mean? The plain reading suggest that Jesus is saying: We tried the non-violent way, taking no money or provisions and relying on the good will of the people (Luke 10:4-7). Well the time for that approach has passed. We can expect no help. Now we take a different tact. 

Despite what it says, it cannot be taken literally. For just a few hours later, when Jesus is arrested, and one of the swords actually is used for its intended purpose, Jesus is adamant that the sword should be put away, and he healed the injured party (Luke 22:49-51). So when it would be the most natural to realize the call to arms, Jesus instead takes the pacifist approach.

The best that this passage can be understood is this way: There was about to be a great transition in the milieu in which the disciples lived. Up to now, for the most part, they were a popular group of Jews with a beloved rabbi who traveled about drawing crowds of admirers. No need for money, provisions, or self-protection. All was readily supplied. However, soon they would become, at best, a headless sect whose leader died in an ignominious way that completely discredited them in the eyes of their countrymen. The donations would dry up. The good will would evaporate. Their lives would be at risk. Jesus’ message is not a literal call to arms. It is a prophecy regarding their changing fates in terms of acceptance and safety.

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