Misreading the Gospel of Luke

Last week, in his weekly column for the National Catholic Reporter, Fr. John Dear wrote about one verse from the Gospel of Luke that is often misread as a justification for war or violence, and how it should be interpreted.

Shortly before his crucifiction, while Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, he tells his disciples that “one who does not have a sword should sell his cloak and buy one.” In response, the disciples find two swords, and Jesus replied, “It is enough” (Luke 22:35-38).

As Fr. Dear explains, the disciples simply didn’t understand that Jesus was not speaking literally. When his followers run off to produce two swords:

…Jesus, barely keeping the glimmer of light alive, snaps: “Stop. It’s enough!” Or in a better translation: “Oh, forget it!”

The misunderstanding is complete. The scriptures foretell it; Jesus resigns himself to it. It is part and parcel of his vocation.

But the Gospel doesn’t end there. Jesus presses the matter even yet.

During the tussle of the arrest, the disciples collectively ask for permission: Can we strike now? And one impetuous disciple (the other Gospels identify him as Peter) is in no mood to wait for an answer. He takes a swing and hacks off an ear of one of the Roman guards.

And again comes a rebuke from Jesus: “Enough! No more of this!”

When the disciples realize that Jesus refuses to take up arms even at this terrible moment they take to their heels. This nonviolent Jesus is more than they had bargained for.

And if we want to take this passage absolutely literally to justify war, Fr. Dear jokes at the end of his article:

…then clearly the passage limits the entire world to only two swords. And we’ll all have to share them.