Ethics, Religion and Politics

The Two Swords: Christians and Their Weapons

Published on: March 11, 2021
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A pile of guns

And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords!”  Jesus said to them, “It is enough.” – Luke 22:38

Americans, especially American Christians, have a fixation on their so-called “God-given Second Amendment Right” to arm themselves to the hilt. I know many Orthodox, even some clergy, who own and hunt with firearms and eat what they kill. But the weapons-mania of the so-called “Christian” Right is not about food and not about recreation. It’s not even about decorating their hunting lodges. It’s about personal survival at the expense of others. There’s a basic question here: is it our vocation as Christians to be prepared to kill other human beings in the name of clinging to this world?

We have “Christian” Congressional Representatives sauntering around the halls of the Capitol with pistols strapped to their legs (or in their purses), like some Hollywood tableau of the Wild West. Weapons, ammo, and the ridiculous misappropriation of Spartan heroism have insinuated themselves into the Christian story. What does the Gospel say about a weaponized response at the darkest hour?

After the Mystical Supper, and right before heading to Gethsemane and the cup whose dregs He had willed to drink, Jesus said this to His disciples:

“When I sent you forth on your mission, without wallet, knapsack, sandals; did you lack anything?”  And the disciples said, “Not a thing!” Then He said, “But now, whoever has a wallet, take it! The same goes for the satchel. And for those who do not have one, sell your cloak and buy a sword! Truly I say to you, that this which is written in the Scriptures must be consummated by Me, ‘And He was reckoned with the transgressors’.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords!”  Jesus said to them, “It is enough.” (Luke 22:35-38)

So, the question has to be asked: was Jesus inciting His disciples to violence? It’s not so easy to answer, for a short while later, when the mob appeared and Judas betrayed Him:

The disciples, seeing what was happening, encircled Him and said, “Lord!  Shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the slave of the High Priest and severed his right ear.  But Jesus exclaimed to them, “Leave it be, now!” And He touched the slave’s ear and healed him. (Luke 22:49-51)

We all know that is was Peter who severed Malchus’ ear, but what else did Jesus say in this moment? Mark is silent, but in Matthew (26:52), He says: “Put away your sword! For all who take up the sword will perish by the sword.” (Abba Moses quotes verse this as the coda to his transformed life, as he accepted a violent death.)

It is clear from the Gospels that Jesus never told His disciples to attack. Their violence, a panicky, fearful reaction to the sudden threat of their beloved Rabbi being seized, was a hindrance to the Lord’s Divine Plan. In the eyewitness account of John (18:11), Jesus says: “Sheath your sword! The cup that the Father has given Me, am I never to drink it?”

The Lord Jesus never called for violence of any kind, except the struggle to gain Heaven by true self-askesis (Matthew 11:9). Turning the other cheek, loving your enemies, and even going like lambs to the slaughter are not symptoms of weakness or cowardice. They are grace-filled signs of spiritual strength and courage. It is self-weaponizing that reveals weakness, lack of faith, and above all fear. The armed contingents of so-called “Christian” militias and self-styled “warriors for the Lord” are nothing more than frightened children with adult-sized weapons of destruction, destroying the capacities of their souls as as they plan, or even relish, the destruction of others.

So why the two swords? Jesus told each of His disciples, if they did not have one, to “sell your cloak and buy a sword!” In that most urgent moment, in which our Lord was already drinking in our fears of injustice, condemnation, pain, and death, He advised those whom He loved to ready themselves with a sword of different kind, “the Sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:12). Sell your cloak of self-protection and self-preservation, not for a weapon of violence, but a means of self-realization. Invest in life, not death.

“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

That is the sword the Lord speaks of in Matthew (10:34): “Do not think that I came to smite the earth with peace. Not with peace, but I came to smite with a sword!” Just as His peace is not as the world gives, His sword is not as the world wields.

The Lord Jesus deeply condescended in so many ways for our salvation, and He continues to do so. He saw His disciples give in to their fears and clutch at those two measly swords. He saw Peter strike out, but He did not allow the damage to remain, even though He knew Satan would sift him like wheat, and that Malchus’ cousin would finger him in the courtyard of the High Priest, pushing him to his third and final denial (John 18:26).

The two swords are only allowed because of our weakness. The Lord does not need us to defend Him. He has more than twelve legions of angels (Matthew 26:53). He waits for us to to find the one true Sword of the Spirit that will cut through the Gordian knot of our hardened hearts, and for us to come to our own realization of the grace and salvation that have come upon us. Time to put away fear and selfishness and beat those two swords into plowshares to sow for a truly spiritual harvest. It is enough.

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Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in the articles on this website are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.


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