Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” “Nothing,” they answered. 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.
Many have wondered what to do with the above statement found in Luke 22, or have been happy either to ignore it or to cite it simplistically in favor of the right to bear arms.
But it came up in my Sunday school class (at which time I found out that many present had never previously come across these words attributed to Jesus!). That led me to wonder about another possible meaning that hadn’t occurred to me before.
The context is hospitality. In the past, Jesus had sent his followers out without money and food, and they had lacked nothing essential, because people welcomed them into their homes.
Here, Jesus says that the situation is changing, and they will need to bring money to take care of their own needs.
Could the suggestion that swords will be essential have to do less with attacking or defending themselves against other human beings, less even than defending themselves against wild animals as they live somewhere other than as guests in people’s homes, and more about hunting for food?
I confess that I know less about ancient hunting than I probably should. But I’m very interested to learn more, if anyone reading this has anything to share. Personally, my instinct is to think it likely that someone did pull out a sword in the incident on the Mount of Olives when Jesus was arrested (as I discussed here on the blog back in 2014). The fact that his disciples were not rounded up suggests that this was not something the authorities would have expected from Jesus’ band and caught them off guard. But it may have sealed Jesus’ fate, historically speaking – it is at least theoretically possible that the authorities might have simply kept him out of the way during Passover and then released him, had there not been a sudden sign of how his supporters might in fact be prone to acts of violence. On the other hand, my overall impression is that the Romans wanted Jesus apprehended, and the Jewish authorities were simply getting them Jesus quickly lest they need to send troops to locate and arrest him themselves.The reference to buying swords (even if it requires selling your cloak, which is itself quite a significant expense!) often gets discussed in connection with gun control and other modern concerns. Whether one translates the response of Jesus as “that is enough” or “enough of this,” neither leaves room for Jesus having the disciples arm themselves. And having long felt that the overall point of the passage is that Jesus’ disciples previously relied on hospitality, the possibility that the swords are not for protecting or defending themselves, but for feeding themselves, would fit that nicely. Does that seem plausible to you?
There are some interesting memes and images online related to this text and their application to gun rights and other modern concerns (as well as critical discussion of the memes). Two examples will suffice: