In Luke 22, Jesus tells His disciples during the Last Supper that the time has come to have swords, and that if they don’t have them, they should sell their cloak to buy one.

It’s a curious passage, isn’t it? Especially given that when one of them uses that sword later that same night when people come to arrest Jesus, He rebukes them and heals the wound inflicted.

Several years ago, we were discussing this passage with some friends, and the conversation–or at least my own thoughts during it, LOL–have stuck with me.

I looked it up and actually found this great article on it that I highly recommend–it strikes me as spot-on and evaluates this command in context. You can read it here.

The article (in case you don’t go and read it) points out that this entire passage is all about that night, about what’s about to happen–Jesus’s arrest. And he says that they must carry swords to fulfill the prophesy that He will be numbered among the transgressors. The reasoning the article gives for this being a fulfillment of that is that because the group was armed, those coming to arrest Christ would view them as hostile and label Him a criminal.

That makes total sense to me. And fits well with the thoughts I’d had that evening a few years ago, as we pondered this question.

Because Jesus told them to have swords–but He did not tell them to use them. He, in fact, was quite frustrated when Peter did so.

I imagine the disciple, like so many of us, would have thought, “Why did you tell me to bring it if you didn’t want me to use it??”

It’s a fascinating question. And fits perfectly with the kind of radical approach Christ had in the world. Yes, He overturned money tables in the Temple–but He also offered mercy over justice to the woman caught in adultery. He called out hypocrites, but when towns didn’t welcome Him and His disciples wanted to rain down terror on them, He was quick to chastise them.

Belief in Him causes division that often leads to violence–but He’d already given instruction on what to do when people strike out at you. Turn the other cheek. Don’t fight. Don’t flee. Stay there and offer them something they’ve never seen before.

This, I think, is a way to view the bringing of swords into the Garden of Gethsemane. Because your radical peacemaking cannot be appreciated if you’re only viewed as a victim. It’s striking when you could fight, but don’t. It’s striking when you choose the way of peace, even in the face of the enemy bearing down.

Peter didn’t make that choice in the garden. He struck out–asking if he should and then not waiting for the answer.

But we see Christ’s answer as He miraculously reattaches the servant’s ear. “Enough of this,” He says. This was not supposed to be about retaliation or even self-defense. This was supposed to be about peace, about salvation. And so, He brought healing. He called out his opponents for chasing after them with swords, when He and His disciples had never been aggressive in such a way. His enemies had no reason to suspect Jesus and His group of violence. Because they were not violent–not under His guidance.

But oh, how quick they forgot that in the face of fear and opposition. How quick they forgot it when they were offended. How quick they were to slash with the sword or threaten destruction to a town. They didn’t understand. Not yet. They hadn’t yet been remade.

And yet after Christ died, rose again, and ascended into Heaven, we see different behavior from the disciples, now filled with the Spirit. We see them never fighting back. They simply accept arrest, persecution, stoning, whipping. Over and over again. Never do we hear them advising the early church to sell their cloaks for swords so they can defend themselves. Instead, we see them at most hiding or fleeing, but just as often waiting for whatever punishment their neighbors want to give them.

And you know what? We know from history that this is why Christianity flourished. Because they spoke more boldly through that radical peace than they could have with shouts and swords. They cut the observers through, not with a blade but with their example. When early Christians were martyred, their joyous accepting of death converted the very people who had sentenced them to death.

Do you know the history of the word “Christian”? We’ve all probably heard that it means “Little Christ,” and Acts tells us that it was first used in Antioch. But what we may not understand simply by reading that verse is that it was a criminal sentence. Christianity was illegal in Antioch, because it defied the state religion. So for those there to create this label was to say, “These people are rebels.” It was to say, “These people are guilty of crimes worthy of death.”

And what did the Christians do? They embraced it. The embraced the label, which was not a good word to the people who created it, but which they knew spoke a deep truth. “If following Christ is a criminal activity,” they were saying, “then yes. We are criminals.”

But they didn’t fight the opposition. There were no coups. They accepted the label, knowing it could mean their deaths, and rejoicing over the possibility of being honored enough to die for their cause, for belief in their Savior.

I wonder sometimes what Jesus would say to us today. We are so quick to condemn people to death. So quick to defend our own rights to violence. So quick to strike with the sword. So quick to call it virtuous.

And I pray that even we mess up, even when we act in a way He surely wouldn’t want, that He continues to step forward and heal the damage we do, creating more followers through it. We certainly aren’t always the best example of Christian. But He, always, is.

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