Why Did Jesus Encourage His Followers to Own Swords?
Regardless of what you specifically think of Jesus, he’s stirred up quite the conversation over the past 2000 years.
It’s curious why someone who preached about peace, tolerance, and social justice, also commanded his followers to own weapons of war. In the gospel of Luke chapter 22 verse 38 Jesus says to his disciples during their last meal together:
“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.”
Why would a preacher of peace encourage his followers to own weapons of war? This seems like a contradiction.
To understand this idea, we need to consider history. It seems the underlying threat of force is forever upon us. There have always been those who hold power. And there have always been those who use power for the wrong reasons. But people always hesitate about oppressing and persecuting those with swords.
It also might be the case that swords and coin purses are symbolic rather than literal. Swords could be a metaphor for one’s capacity for conflict and defense. When one is “armed”, metaphorically speaking, they have integrated their aggression for the right reasons and are able to defend themselves and their community. Coin purses could be a metaphor for the mentality and way of life conducive to wealth generation and prosperity.
Perhaps Jesus was suggesting that people of peace should be capable of protecting themselves.
At this part of history, Jesus probably knew the local Jewish authorities were coming after him and he would likely die. His followers would be demonized, arrested, and most likely killed. Whether they knew it or not, his followers would set out to preach a new religion that would dominate the coming two thousand years of human history.
Jesus wouldn’t have wanted his friends and followers oppressed. He wanted them to live lives of peace and prosperity, and inherit “the Kingdom of God”, in his words. Perhaps the best way to find peace at this time was to own swords and tools to protect oneself. After all, as the saying goes, walls weren’t built because of our friends — and this seems true for swords as well.
This is not to encourage violence or harm. Violence should be avoided when possible and should always be a last resort for solving any problem. It also should be noted that peaceful solutions are often more effective than violence. In the words of the prophet Muhammad, “The ink of a scholar is worth more than the blood of a martyr.” There are far more valuable avenues of empowerment than violent force. Having said this, it’s important we also recognize our responsibility to the well-being of our community even in extreme circumstances.
If someone always holds the underlying threat of physical force, what is the best thing to do as a person who wants to live in peace? It seems like the best thing to do is to keep in check the power of tyranny. Good people who yearn for peace and justice should be able to stand against those who seek to cause harm.
There are a lot of bad people in the world — more good people than bad people, but there are always a couple of characters who want to cause harm. They’re usually pretty scarce, but history shows that they come out of the shadows from time to time.
In a matter of months, your country could be invaded, or maybe your government could fall. The people who once kept you safe might no longer be watching your back when you sleep. Alternatively, your whole financial system could collapse or a national emergency could be declared and you’d see the government turn into a police state virtually overnight. This is when a country and its people are put to the test. It’s in these moments where the underlying threat of force shows itself to the people. And it’s in these moments when we hope that those with force use their power for good rather than harm.
Religious minorities and other oppressed groups certainly know the horrible power a corrupt, tyrannical, and oppressive government can have over their people.
It’s in these times of chaos that swords and coin purses are beneficial to one’s community. Rather than literally having swords and coin purses, they might be symbols of virtues one should strive for. It seems that swords are a metaphor for one’s capacity for conflict and defense. When one is “armed”, metaphorically speaking, they have integrated their aggression for the right reasons and are able to defend themselves and their community. In keeping with the metaphor, a coin purse represents the mentality and way of life conducive to wealth generation and prosperity.
Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when he encouraged his followers to have a coin purse and obtain a sword. Those with wealth, property, and ability for defense are more likely to find peace and prosperity than those who hold no wealth, have nothing of their own, and put their swords in the hands of others.