It has been called the night of the betrayal. The night before the crucifixion. It is a night filled with activities both wondrous and terrible. It is the night of fellowship, communion, and prayer. It is also the night of betrayal, denial, trials and beatings. It is the night of the arrest of the Son of God.
It was an event of significant violence. The arresting party was a mob. It was armed to the teeth. There were clubs in the hands of the mob. There were swords in the hands of the military personnel. Flaming torches cast their lurid light in all directions that made the rest of the night look darker. Sparks were flying in every direction as the mob wormed its way through the orchard of Olive trees. The approaching men jostled one another, as they hurried into the garden of Gethsemane. The leaders are at the front of the crowd with Judas leading the way.
Before that evening has ended swords will be drawn and blood will be shed. Jesus will have been bound and rushed off into the darkness to stand trial.
But we expect such behaviour from the crowd. Mobs are notorious for violence. But, interestingly, this time the mob only threatens it, but does not do it.
It is the apostles that create the violence. In fact they are pretty fortunate that their deed did not spark a much greater conflagration. One rash act can be like using a match to test a gas leak. Fortunately, Jesus takes charge, and the violence goes no further.
The Matter of Swords
But the question comes, what are these men doing with swords in their hands at all? They have spent months with the prince of Peace. Over and over again, they have they been warned against violence by Jesus. He has spoken words such as “turn the other cheek”,…. “love your enemies”….”Do good to those who persecute you.”.”Pray for your enemies.” They had heard John the Baptist saying, “Do violence to no man.” He had gotten after James and John who wanted Him to bring down fire on his foes on an earlier occasion. Surely, they should have caught on.
Three of the Gospels give us no reason for the presence of swords in the hands of the 12. But Luke gives us an explanation.
On the night of the betrayal, Jesus speaks words that lead two of the disciples at least to pack a sword on their way to the prayer meeting in Gethsemane. It is a passage of strange significance. (Luke 22:35-38.)
Jesus said to them, “When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “No, not a thing.” He said to them, “But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted among the lawless’; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.” They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” He replied, “It is enough.” He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him.
These words have puzzled all of us. There are several ways they can be understood.
1. He was Encouraging violence
He was obviously being serious. He has been speaking of establishing a Kingdom. He has been using words such as “betrayal” and “denial”. These were not moments to joke with his friends. He means what he says. Was he intending them to take his words literally? Some have said that he is creating an interim ethic, which says, turning the other cheek is fine most of the time, but some days, forget it. The church at times must act as a political force.
In the year 1302 Pope Boniface the 8th said that God has given to the church the two swords of spiritual and civil authority. The church has a right to use armies and inquisitions. It has the right to rule in both sacred and secular affairs. So when Jesus said, “That’s enough” he meant to say that two swords are a fine beginning at least for this night.
But if this is the true meaning of this event, then Jesus has reversed all that he has ever said before, and he contradicts himself in the garden when he tells Peter to put away his sword, and reverses the damage to a young man’s ear. There must be a better explanation.
2. A Vivid Metaphor
Others have suggested a meaning more accurate. Jesus, they said, is using a vivid metaphor. Jesus has a fondness for such metaphors. In Matthew 11:12, he says, “From the days of John the Baptist until now., the Kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.”
In Matthew 10:34, he says, “Think not that I have come to bring peace to the earth, but a sword, for I have come to set a man against his father…and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.”
Later Paul the Apostle will use similar language, “Put on the entire armor of God….Take the sword of the spirit…. Be a good soldier of Jesus Christ…. I have fought the good fight.” and so on.
So what is Jesus communicating through this metaphor? He is saying, “Before this day. you could go from village to village in safety, but now we are entering into a time of violence, be ready.” There was a day you didn’t need to take money with you, or extra clothing, because you were readily welcomed. Homes opened up to you. Food was provided. They were good days where people were open to you. And even if they were not open, you could simply walk out of town and knock off the dust from your feet. But now, Jesus infers, you may not get to leave town at all, or you might leave it in tar and feathers.
He is not saying then that we should take up swords literally, but, we should be armed with a realistic view of the days ahead.
Of course the disciples took him literally as they too often did, and grabbed a couple of swords. Where would they get such swords from in the upper room. They may not have been swords as we picture them. They may well have been long knives which may have been basic equipment for fishermen or travelers, just like an earlier generation of our own times might carry a pocket knife.
They say, “Here are a couple” and when Jesus says “that’s enough” he might have meant, “that’s enough of that guys. Come on, Let’s go.”
So the two solutions are that Jesus is either turning his hand to violence, or he is warning his followers in a graphic way, that very difficult times are ahead, beginning that night.
3. The Dullness of the Disciples
But the real question is, Why does Luke tell us this story at all? Matthew, Mark and John, if they knew of this conversation, chose not to include it in their accounts. It is a story capable of being misunderstood and might do damage to Jesus reputation as a man of peace.
But Luke has a reason. He is telling us not only about Jesus, but about the disciples. He knows that we know Jesus well enough to know that he did not mean to be taken literally, but he lets us know that the apostles once more, failed to understand their master. Luke notes that Jesus quotes a strange passage from the Old Testament “He was reckoned with transgressors” But who are the transgressors? The Mob? The two thieves on the cross? or the disciples? The disciples are the transgressors here.
Throughout that evening the attitude of his followers is clear. They spend their time squabbling about future places of prominence in the Kingdom. They end up denying or betraying their friend. They run in cowardice into the night. And here too they fail to understand what he has been saying to them. For the disciples also participate in the fallenness of the world in both a dullness of mind, and a violent streak. They still dream of the old kind of Kingdom with swords flashing, and with conquest and dominance. They expect a kingdom in which drawn swords are part of the coat of arms.
This entire story is intended to underscore the deep misunderstanding that separates Jesus from his friends. When he says, “It is enough” he is not agreeing that two swords will do fine. His words are a sad dismissal of the subject. He will say the same words in the garden of Gethsemane, (Mark 14:41, “Are you still sleeping. Enough! Let us be going.” It is the same phrase used by discouraged Elijah under the juniper tree, “It is enough. Let me die” I Kings 19:4) They are the words used to express deep discouragement with the situation. There is a weariness in Jesus as he faces his own death in just a few hours.
Why does Luke tell us this about the 12? There may be a crucial reason. In his day there were those who put too much stock in the leaders of the church. There was the tendency to make them co-redeemers with Christ. But Luke wants us to know that these men were both human and faulty, themselves transgressors who needed to be saved from their own violence and stupidity. They were not mini-messiah’s, who helped save the world. They too were among the transgressors that needed God’s help if they were ever to be any different. The disciples were not at this moment part of the solution, they were part of the problem.
Instead, Luke tells us, single handedly, with opposition from without and within, Jesus went to the cross by himself. Alone he saved us from our sin. He alone is the world redeemer.
On a much later day the disciples must have looked back on that evening with a sense of sadness. They were part of the problem on that very problematic night. Instead of standing with him, they too, like the rest of the world, stood against him. Not that they chose to do that. They were simply unaware of the events that awaited both him and them. And over the years as they remembered his arrest and subsequent death, there must have come a new sense of penitence into their lives.
And during this season of Lent, we too are aware of the dullness of our own minds. We too are no different than those first 12 followers. We too find a violent streak in our own lives and our own culture that continues to maim the relationship of our lives. Oh I doubt it any of us raise swords, pull knives, or fire guns. But our love for vicarious violence on the screens and in our sports, and in our speech remind us that there is something violent about we humans, that needs to be forgiven and cleansed. During this season penitence is certainly in order. Prayers of confession, if not for ourselves as individuals, at least for the nation and world in which we live.
As we close this hour, let me pray on our behalf a prayer of confession.
Oh God, in our meeting of Jesus Christ, we met the prince of peace. A man who lived among us to show us that peace and understanding were to pervade our relationships with each other. We have heard your words and they have spoken peace to us, and taught us to be peace makers.
Even if we refused to listen to you, we should have learned that lesson from the carnage we have inflicted on one another in this century. We should have let the last war be the war to end all wars. But even as we pray to you, violence is done in our homes and cities. Violence is perpetrated against children and spouses by people who believe themselves to be civilized. In our great cities where our greatest creativity is manifest, in those very same places, so is our greatest violence. And in Europe and Africa and Asia unremitting wars are still being fought over significant and insignificant issues. As you look downward on our hate, you must grieve beyond all our grieving.
Oh God. Forgive us our sins. Cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Create in all of us a deep revulsion to any and all manifestation of violence, so that our children can grow up in a world more greatly influenced by Jesus Christ, our Lord. These things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen
Hymns: 735. Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life.
427 Dear Lord and Father of Mankind (verses 1, 4)