Missional Jesus 57

From the sublime to the obscure. The text today (Luke 22:35-38) is not clear.
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’; 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 is enough,” he replied.
1. Missional Jesus (evidently) teaches here that his followers will need swords for physical protection.
2. Missional Jesus says this when he connects himself to the Servant of Isaiah — and his theme here is that of being classed with transgressors, those who violate the law and get punished. Jesus knows he is innocent, but he will be classed with them and therefore put down.
3. More likely in my judgment, #1 is mistaken: since sword is used for animosity and hostility and since in 22:49-51, it is more likely that Jesus warns of hostility instead of reception. When the disciples respond with “Hey, we’ve got protection; two swords,” Jesus’ response is one of exasperation — as it was in 22:51.
Still, I’m not sure the text is clear and we need to be wise about using this text.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Diane

    I find this confusing as I see Jesus as modeling a life of nonviolence. Is he using “sword” metaphorically as you suggest? The text seems so literal, but who knows? Why do you think Jesus’ response is exasperated? It could read as a statement of fact: two swords is enough. Or is he saying that two swords are enough because weapons of violence don’t really protect us?

  • http://www.borrowedbreath.com/ Nathanael

    This is a challenging text.
    I’ve never noticed it before.
    We read later that Peter wields his sword in defense of his master. He wasn’t swinging for Malchus’s ear. He was swinging for his head and caught his ear. But he was using it offensively. Could it be that our Lord knew one of His disciples would use the sword wrongly, and He was preparing a lesson for showing a marked contrast between His kingdom and the kingdom of this world?

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    “I find this confusing as I see Jesus as modeling a life of nonviolence.”
    Are we talking about the guy with the whip?
    Turning the other cheek does not necessarily mean accepting any physical harm people want to do to you. We should be willing to lay our lives down for the Kingdom, but that doesn’t mean we have to throw them away to anyone who wants to hurt us.
    I’ve seen the “that is enough” explained as Jesus saying that two swords is sufficient — in other words, Jesus wasn’t creating an army (ala Islam) but knew that defense would occasionally be necessary. It’s an interpretation worth considering.

  • Scott Watson

    Actually,this cunundrum of a text–since it challenges our seemingly artificial views about Jesus which tend to homogenize our portraits of him–speaks of the veracity of the tradition itself. Evidently tradents and the communities preserved all kinds of things which don’t seem to jive with other parts of the Jesus tradition,that is,they didn’t do a good job of filtering out discordant or potentially embarassing materials for the sake of “spinning” the Jesus tradition to make it more theologically consistent and “orthodox.” Presumably,they include this material because it came from Jesus,thus it was authoritative.In many cases we probably we don’t know the original contexts of the bits and complexes of the Jesus tradition which were preserved. This should give us all pause in doing Gospel Christology in a typical Western “systematic theology” manner. A brief side note:this text makes it so clear that Jesus was not some deluded,otherworldly seer;he understood and accepted the dangers of the mission he was called to accomplish by YHWH.This calls for some “street smarts,” what the Hebrews call hohkmah “wisdom,” a divine attribute also.

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.blogspot.com John W Frye

    I like Nathanael’s (#2) idea. Perhaps this text concerns particularity, that is, it is extremely time-place specific. Jesus anticipated a skirmish of some sort at his arrest in the Garden. Peter’s courage on the one hand is admirable, but his method on the other is strongly rebuked by Jesus. The sword event happens and is over…for good.

  • http://kcog.net Mark

    “I find this confusing as I see Jesus as modeling a life of nonviolence.”
    “Are we talking about the guy with the whip?”
    Even with a whip, Jesus can be a model of nonviolence, perhaps. I think that a better term might be ‘non-retaliatory violence.” This is clarified by the statement recorded by Luke a few verses later, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs?”
    I have tried to make sure that I read verses in the surrounding textual context especially when reading Luke-Acts since the author claimed to make an intentional effort to make an “orderly” account.
    Therefore, maybe “two swords is enough” was simply a statement that the two swords (for eleven disciples + plus Jesus) would be enough for what would take place shortly. They must have already had the swords and didn’t need to go get them so Jesus would have been aware of them. Does this then imply some of the disciples carried weapons regularly? That may be a stretch. Maybe this is an attempt to explain how Peter ended up with a sword.
    “He was swinging for his head and caught his ear.”
    Maybe Peter was not actually swinging for the head but was trying to do some fancy swordmanship and the sword slipped. Probably not since that would be something found in the Gospel of Mark subtitled, “Jesus and the Twelve Stooges.”
    By the way, Scot, I’ve enjoyed this series on Missional Jesus. Maybe the next series could be, Sarcastic Jesus, and we could look at all the texts that could suggest a sarcastic response by Jesus depending on how one reads it. My favorite would be, “On this rock, I will build my church.” :)
    In Christ,
    Mark

  • tim atwater

    thanks for the v appropriate cautions.
    if i remember — Luther (probably following Augustine?) based a lot of his ‘two kingdoms’ theory/theology on the two swords. many have followed this track historically.
    Anababtists, Friends, Franciscans and many others have gone the symbolic swords route (perhaps resonating w Simeon in Luke 2?)
    being open to not knowing for sure seems a good thing here.
    grace

  • http://julieclawson.blogspot.com Julie Clawson

    Thanks for commenting on this one.
    After reading many interpretations of this passage recently, I find myself landing on the figurative one. There are those who use this as a justification for war but that ignores Jesus’ other teaching about peace and the subsequent scene with Peter in the garden. The other very popular interpretation of them needing just a couple of swords to protect themselves against the criminals Jesus was soon to be numbered with doesn’t seem to follow either.
    But Jesus has used the term “sword” figuratively in other occasions (I have not come to bring peace but a sword). Here he has just been rebuking the disciples for arguing who was the greatest (based likely on the popularity the gained doing miracles on their missionary journeys) and he tries to explain to them how different things will be from that point on. They will no longer be rock stars, but they will face real dangers and divisions (hence the figurative concept of the sword). People won’t be lining up to take care of them anymore since they will be branded as the followers of a criminal. But they of course don’t get it as usual.

  • Dana Ames

    The scenario of Jesus being simply exasperated at their speed and willingness to resort to the sword, saying as if to unruly children, “That’s enough of that!” makes the most sense to me.
    As to his words about buying a sword, I think he is speaking ironically, not as a command.
    Jesus is only depicted taking up the whip when he went after the moneychangers in the temple. It meant something in its context; it was not his habitual action.
    And for the possibility that Jesus was saying he wasn’t creating an army but that defense would sometimes be necessary, I’ve considered it, but I find it very hard to hold to that interpretation in light of what Jesus said about the servants not being greater than their master, and as the Father sent him so he sends his followers.
    Dana

  • Mariam

    I’ve always thought that sword was used figuratively in the Bible to mean truth or Word of God. eg. Eph 6:17, PS 45:3, Rev 2: 12,16 (as is often clothing, eg. helmet of salvation, cloak of righteousness). I have always seen this as another case of Jesus speaking figuratively but the disciples hearing him literally. When Jesus says “it is enough”, it isn’t exactly exasperation. It is more as if he realize that they just don’t get it and he is assuring them that what they have is indeed sufficient without having to try and make it more explicit for them.

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    What other thing that the disciples didn’t understand caused Jesus to say, “that’s enough” and drop the conversation? Was it comments about bread? Yeast? Seed? So why swords?
    When the disciples misunderstood Jesus, He corrected them. He didn’t just blow them off, even when He was annoyed with them.

  • http://www.getting-free.blogspot.com T

    A few (late) thoughts:
    1. The more important part of this passage to me is Jesus questioning the disciples about whether they lacked anything when all they had was his message and power (and non-violent ethics). Before he leaves them, he wants them to recall this. Their missionary experience is going to be very similar to their long-term future after the resurrection & Pentacost. (“Silver and gold, I don’t have, but what I do have, I give you.”) This part of the conversation seems to intentionally shape (far more than the sword bit) their actual behavior and confidence in Acts.
    2. I agree with Scot’s #3 – Jesus is warning them here about this brief, dark time when they’ll have neither him nor any particularly dramatic empowerment or comfort from the Spirit. The sheep will be (briefly) scattered. He is not undoing or even ‘balancing’ his perennial command of agape toward neighbor and enemy alike.

  • http://julieclawson.blogspot.com Julie Clawson

    ChrisB – Jesus didn’t always correct. The scriptures say he often rebuked or expressed sadness at unbelief, but they don’t say that he explain everything to make people understand. In the passage this is taken from (The Last Supper), it appears that he has already changed his “pep talk” tactics as it were a couple of time to help the disciples get what he’s talking about. They just don’t seem to get what he is saying until after the horror of his death.

  • Mariam

    Chris,
    The reasons I believe that Jesus’ reference to taking a sword is metaphorical are several:
    1. The use of “sword” as a metaphor is extremely common in the scriptures. I gave some examples above but there are more. The typical meaning is truth, as in God’s truth, or God’s Word. This continues to this day where sword has become a figurative synonym for Bible. (Thus “sword drills” are bible quizzes.) Jesus was extremely well-versed in scripture, often wielding it as a sort of weapon when engaged in arguments with Pharisees. It would not have been unreasonable for him to use this very common scriptural metaphor and expect his disciples to know what he was talking about. In fact I believe the whole statement referring to a cloak, purse and sword are metaphorical. I am not certain what cloak and purse represent but they are presumably the spiritual tools they will need to carry out their mission, the purse represent spiritual wealth or gifts, the cloak righteousness perhaps. In any case it is the sword – the truth – which Jesus seems to think most important.
    2. To suddenly start talking about taking up literal arms is inconsistent with what Jesus has said before and what happens later. When Peter later cuts off the ear of the centurion, Jesus heals the centurion and tells his disciples to put up their weapons, for he who takes the sword will perish with the sword. Jesus recognizes what they might perceive as a contradiction because he acknowledges that he previously told them the opposite – to not take anything with them. However, it is only a contradiction if he is speaking literally. I think he is trying to once again contrast the spiritual tools they will need with the things of this world. However, the disciples get hung up on trying to figure out where they are going to get swords from and miss his point.
    3. Jesus frequently, perhaps most of the time, spoke in parables and figurative language.
    We have to put this in context. This is a dark and frightening time for Jesus and his followers. Judas already has been to betray them. Jesus will be arrested shortly and he knows this. Peter has stated that he will never betray Christ and will stay with him to the death. Brave words, but Jesus knows, that very shortly Peter will in fact deny him. Jesus himself has doubts. Very soon he is going to express them in prayer. I see v 37 as almost a soliloquy. While Jesus is struggling with his own thoughts of how this all fits into God’s plan, the disciples are busy trying to come up with swords. I can just see it: “Swords, did he say swords?” “He’s never said anything about swords before.” “I don’t have a sword, do you?” “Well, I can tell you I’m not going to be able to buy a sword with what I’ll get for MY cloak.” “I say it’s about time – I’d be a little more comfortable if I had a sword.”
    Jesus has been lost in his own thoughts and realizes that the disciples have misunderstood them, but they don’t really have time for another lesson in symbolism, what with Jesus’ imminent arrest and all. As well the disciples are probably too frightened and stressed to receive such a lesson. Perhaps he knows that the two pitiful swords they produce bolster their courage in what they are about to face, even though, obviously they are not “enough” to defend them. They are however “enough” (that is “not enough”) to ensure they won’t be able to fight their way out of God’s will. He knows that very shortly he will be separated from them and perhaps he wonders if this rag-tag group of simple men really has what it takes to continue his work. But he trusts that God will give them what they need and that the Holy Spirit will transform them. He knows how devoted they are to him and that several will die for him. They will have and will become what they need and need to be. He says gently and lovingly “It is enough.”
    Well that’s my interpretation and I’m sticking to it.

  • tim atwater

    well Mariam, (and others above) i am persuaded.
    nice exegesis… and isn’t it true that doing our best Jesus imitation as to how we say it — is what’s persuasive?
    grace,


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