The Two Swords: a bible study.
35 And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no purse or bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” 36 He said to them, “But now, let him who has a purse take it, and likewise a bag. And let him who has no sword sell his mantle and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was reckoned with transgressors’; for what is written about me has its fulfilment.” 38 And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.” (Luke 22: 35-38, RSV)
This short passage, unique to St. Luke’s gospel, comes at the end of the extensive account he presents of the betrayal of Jesus and the last supper. It serves to describe the change in circumstances from those which characterised the mission of the seventy-two disciples which Luke describes in chapter 10 (vv. 1-12). In that mission the disciples would travel light and yet have everything they needed and the result would be success and joy. Now the opposite is true. Both Jesus and the disciples face a time of trial and rejection.
There is in the passage a disillusionment which reflects a dramatic change in Jesus’ mission. It can be read along with the lamentation over Jerusalem (Luke 13: 34-35 and Matthew 23: 37-39) and Jesus’ prophecy to the women of the city (Luke 23: 27-31).
The passage is full of irony which is lost on the disciples. They understand Jesus’ words literally despite the quotation from the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 53: 12) with its reference to the Lord’s Messiah. For some at least, it seems to be a call for action, even a call to arms; now is the time to rebel against the aggressors. What is clear, given the context of the passage, is that were the mission of Luke 10 to be carried out today it would not have the happy ending which Luke has previously recorded. The Evangelist makes it clear that Jesus’ fate is already determined and that resistance would be useless. Two swords could not possibly suffice.
The passage does show the commitment of the disciples to Jesus. It is a sentiment reminiscent of John 11: 16 in which Thomas encourages the others to follow Jesus to the death. Even so, their expectation of a fight in Luke 22 is misplaced, nor could it ever be effective. All the gospel writers know that Jesus’ words point towards martyrdom; that where he goes the disciple must follow.
Jesus concludes the incident with the words, ‘It is enough’. He is not referring to the swords which are not relevant either to his anticipated course of action or his fate as described by the gospel writers. According to T. W. Manson Jesus is instead using a Semitic idiom with a meaning similar to ‘that will do’. He is simply bringing the conversation to an end because it has served its purpose. It is now time to go to Gethsemane.
The passage is a hard one. Joachim Jeremias describes it as pointing to an eschatological time of distress akin to that described by Jesus as he meets the women of Jerusalem. This goes beyond the fate of the disciples which is Jeremias’s principal concern. Few of them died by the sword as far as can be ascertained from historical record. Jesus’ words include the destiny of Israel itself which came to be defined by the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and the Bar-Kochba rebellion in A.D. 132-135 in which the sword played a greater part. N.T. Wright would point out that Jesus’ teaching and the gospels as a whole can only be understood in terms of the completion of the destiny of Israel and the coming of the Messiah. Jesus is not just concerned with a small band of disciples, he sees the bigger picture and in doing so completes the history of Israel.
Joachim Jeremias, New Testament Theology (1971) SCM
T. W. Manson, The Sayings of Jesus (1937) SCM
N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (1992) SPCK
N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (1996) SPCK
Wednesday 1st February, 10.00am Mass (Presentation of Christ)
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Ash Wednesday, 22nd February
Mass with imposition of ashes (Modern Rite), 10.00am
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8.00pm Stations of the Cross
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