Thursday, October 8, 2015

Jesus, Self-Defense, and the Pajama Boy

Luke 22:35-38 English Standard Version (ESV):

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. 

The Context: This teaching takes place immediately before the events at the Mount of Olives and Gethsemane, including the arrest of Jesus (which is described in verses 39-53 of this same chapter).

Tim’s Comments: Earlier in his ministry, Jesus had sent out his disciples “without money bag, knapsack, and sandals.” The idea was to trust God to provide for their needs. And, indeed, they did not lack anything. 

Yet, difficult times are coming. Jesus forewarns His disciples of future persecution, and tells them to prepare for whatever may lie ahead.  But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.” (During this time, travelers carried swords for self-defense against robbers.)

Different interpretations of this passage are possible. First, that Jesus is speaking metaphorically, warning His disciples to prepare spiritually for the spiritual battles ahead (see Ephesians 6:10-17, the “Whole Armor of God” passage). Second, that Jesus is speaking literally, suggesting that His disciples need to prepare for the difficult times that are ahead of them, including arming themselves for self-defense. Both of these possible interpretations have merit (see the following paragraphs), so a third interpretation is that Jesus is speaking to both ideas – metaphorically of spiritual battles, and more literally of physical preparations for future difficulties and persecution.

The editors of the ESV Study Bible give two reasons for  the metaphorical interpretation: “(1) In Luke 22: 38 the disciples misunderstand Jesus’ command and produce literal swords (v. 38); on this view, Jesus’ response that “It is enough” is a rebuke, saying essentially, “Enough of this talk about swords.” (2) Just a few minutes later Jesus will again prohibit the use of a literal sword.

Additionally, they also give reasons for the literal interpretation: “(a) The moneybag and knapsack and cloak in this same verse are literal, and so the sword must be taken literally as well. (b) Jesus’ response that “It is enough” (v 38) actually approves the swords the disciples have as being enough, and Jesus’ later rebuke in vv. 49– 51 only prohibits them from blocking his arrest and suffering, that is, from seeking to advance the kingdom of God by force. (c) The very fact that the disciples possess swords (v 38) suggests that Jesus has not prohibited them from carrying swords up to this point, and Jesus never prohibited self-defense.

Jesus is clearly drawing a distinction (“but now”) between the way His disciples went out to the people early on in His ministry, and the way they must go out in the difficult times ahead.  Father Lawrence Farley, in his commentary The Gospel of Luke – Good News for the Poor, writes: “Difficult times are indeed coming, and Christ forewarns His disciples of the dangers to come. He asks them to compare the time when He sent them out with purse and bags and sandals (9:1f) to the coming days. In those earlier times of mission, did they lack anything? They answered “Nothing” – they had all they needed, being supplied by the hospitality they encountered. But now, things will be different. They cannot count on receiving hospitality or help but must rely solely on themselves. Persecution, not welcome, would be the order of the day.

The point Jesus was making is that the disciples must now rely on themselves for their needs. But, what does it mean for the disciples to rely on themselves? Earlier, Jesus sent His disciples out without anything other than the clothes they were wearing. They were to rely on the hospitality of others for their needs. But now, they “must now provide for their own needs and not rely on receiving a friendly welcome” (Fr. Farley). In contrast, Jesus now tells His disciples to prepare – to take money and knapsack and sword (even if they had to sell their clock to buy one). 

Certainly, a major part preparedness for the followers of Jesus is spiritual preparedness (the metaphorical interpretation). But, spiritual preparedness had not been among the things forbidden by Jesus earlier, only physical preparations. Allowing spiritual preparations, therefore, would not be a contrast to the earlier way, only a continuation of the same. A purely metaphorical interpretation fails to provide the needed contrast. Since Jesus obviously intended his statement  show show a contrast, it has to be more than just (or only) a metaphor.

It also, as the editors of the ESV Study Bible point out, makes little sense for the sword alone to be a metaphor, while the other items in the same sentence are meant literally. 

Specifically about the sword, Fr. Farley writes: “Literally speaking two swords among eleven disciples are nothing and will be quite inadequate to defend them against actual armed attack. But Jesus was not referring to actual armed combat, but to their using their own resources in reliance on the power of God. Therefore, He answers “It is sufficient,” for even such small resources are sufficient if accompanied by faith in God.” 

God can use our preparations - our actions and resources - meager as they might be, to accomplish His will. But, this doesn’t mean that we aren’t supposed to make preparations. Indeed, the Bible is replete with examples of God requiring His people to prepare for future difficulties. 

But what about Jesus’ rebuke of Peter later that same night? When the authorities came to arrest Jesus, Peter used a sword to defend Him, cutting off the ear of the servant of the high priest (Luke 22:50). This resulted in a sharp rebuke of Peter from Jesus (Luke 22:51). This rebuke is often used to paint a picture of a pacifist Jesus, who prohibits even self-defense. 

The problems with that interpretation are many: 1) Jesus never prohibits self-defense in any of His teachings; 2) it goes against the nature of Jesus, who is shown to act forcibly when the situation called for it, such as His attack on the money-changers at the Temple (see John 2:13-16), when He made a whip and used it against the money-changers, overturning tables, scattering money, and driving the money-changers from the Temple; 3) Jesus never forbids His disciples from carrying swords, as shown by the fact that at least two of them were carrying swords during the events recorded in Luke 2.

Jesus taught love and forgiveness, but never taught pacifism. Loving our neighbor does not in any way preclude self-defense or forceful actions when necessary. Forgiving others does not mean we must allow them to continue hurting or threatening us.

A more accurate interpretation of the rebuke of Peter is Jesus was upset at Peter for not realizing what must happen to Him for scripture to be fulfilled.  Jesus’ death and resurrection, not armed rebellion or the establishment of an earthly kingdom, is what must happen. This lack of understanding on the part of the disciples was a long-standing frustration for Jesus. It was this lack of understanding that Jesus rebuked, not the sword itself.

Conclusions:  There are many lessons that can be learned from Luke 22. One lesson is that the followers of Jesus are NOT guaranteed easy times ahead. In fact, persecution at the hands of the worldly system is to be expected, as Jesus warned His disciples. Another is that the followers are Jesus are told to prepare for difficult times and persecutions ahead. This certainly requires spiritual preparations (growing in our relationship with God through prayer, reading scripture, worshiping Him, etc.). It also requires physical preparations, including preparations for self-defense when necessary. 

The Pajama Boy is not Jesus
Finally, let me give warning against a non-biblical presentation of Jesus that is in vogue among many Christians today. Remember the Pajama Boy Internet meme from a few years ago? Many Christians see Jesus as kind of an ultimate Pajama Boy – a super-sensitive, in-touch-with-his-feminine-side, person solely about love, peace, and forgiveness. This is NOT the biblical Jesus.

Yes, Jesus was about love, peace, and forgiveness. But He was also a man of action, a forceful personality, aggressive when He needed to be, uncompromising in His values and expectations, willing to stand up against evil, willing to upset the authorities and the status-quo, willing commit civil disobedience, unconcerned with public opinion, strong, fearless, a true man’s man...

Yes, Jesus was quick to forgive, but at the same time He also demanded repentance - that those who received His forgiveness turn away from their sin and turn back to the ways of God. Forgiveness of the sinner never meant acceptance of the sin. Too many Christians today so emphasize the forgiveness part, that they forget about the repentance that must accompany forgiveness.

The Pajama Boy Jesus is preferred by many people today despite its incompleteness. Many folks are simply uncomfortable with those aspects of Jesus that clash with modern worldly sensitivities. But we ignore the fullness of Jesus’ personality and teachings at our own peril. 

Agree? Disagree? Please feel free to leave your comments below.

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