Hrmpfh. I could write volumes in response to the different
assumptions and assertions already popping up here. But I’ll try to
keep it brief.
First of all, the silly “knife to my child and wife” thing is such a tired counter-response. I recommend John Howard Yoder’s “What Would You Do”
as an excellent, thoughtful, short response (that even includes an
article from Janis Joplin). If you are seriously interested in how the
nonviolent person responds to the issue of the lone knifeman, please
check it out. If you are interested, but don’t want to shell out the 10
bucks, please email me at mark [at] missio-dei.com and I’ll actually
pay for it myself and ship it to you. Seriously. I want to do my small
part to get people to stop using that argument.
Regarding the passage where Jesus tells his disciples to carry
swords: Jesus tells his disciples to each have a sword…they feebly
respond that they have two already…Jesus gets frustrated. And later,
when he’s arrested, Jesus rebukes Peter for using one of the two swords
that they already had.
What’s the point? Why does Jesus tell them to have swords? Given the
context and Jesus’ larger teachings on nonviolence he was trying to
make a larger point that his disciples were too obtuse to get. Which is
why he told them “Enough of this!”
Jesus is being ironic. It is the only thing that makes sense of the
passage. Jesus, on his way to being arrested, knows that the time of
trial has come. And in order to prepare them for the hostility that is
to come, tells them, in effect, to posture themselves for war.
But they take Jesus literally, still unable to interpret the words
of their Master in a way that fits with his overall teaching on the
Kingdom of God. Jesus’ words mustn’t be taken as justification for
armed resistance or self defense. Rather, he is calling his disciples
to face the coming confrontation boldly, doing revolution in the way he
taught them. Jesus taught them a peaceful way to resist the Enemy.
Paul’s teachings on resisting the powers (rather than flesh and blood)
aren’t his innovation–they flow out of the teaching of Christ. Yet
here, in this passage, at this point in the story, the disciples still
don’t get that.
At any rate…it seems clear to me (whether you read this as simply
Jesus fulfilling prophecy so that he can fulfill Isaiah 53 or you see
Jesus as being ironic) that this passage simply cannot be used to
legitimize self-defense. That isn’t the point…and the context actually
refutes that point.