“Put away your sword,” Jesus told him. “Those who use the sword will die by the sword," Matthew 26:52.
The teaching of Jesus in Matthew 5 and 26 is the kind of subversive truth that can undermine the very foundations of one's mind and heart and even whole systems of powers. These are passages that have been banned as revolutionary, rebellious, dangerous, counter cultural, suspect and treasonous.
These are the types of words that ricochet off the walls so hard after one speaks them that they often slam back into your face with crushing blows. As soon as you breathe them at someone or something they return like a boomerang and stick into some exposed area of your life that has yet been impacted by the deep, life messing power they contain.
The 'sword verse' has been plastered on bumper-stickers, t-shirts, placards, protest signs and countless other anti-war, anti-weapon movements. Jesus' words to his ear slicing friend have been used to disarm Roman soldiers, crusading zealots, NRA musket men and even finger-pistol pointing boys on school playgrounds.
The implications of 'sheathing one's sword" have been dreamed about for centuries from the first cries of a mother who lost her son to murder in the suburb of Eden to the haunting dirge of the slain souls under the altar in the vision of John (Revelations 6). The earth itself is moaning and humanity's life is crying out from centuries of blood soaked soil. Who hasn't wept the word's of the prophets who have dreamed God's dream of a coming time when all people will hammer their swords into farming tools (Is. 2:4)?
When I was fully exposed to these naked, nuclear words, their luminescent power opened my eyes to the possibilities of the kingdom like the rush of an atomic blast. My young mind was blown over with a torrent of zeal and Elijah like bravado. I contended with the blood drawers on my own Mt. Carmel with similar passion, jest and holy fire. The words of Jesus were my own swords, used to soak my opponents weak responses to the call of the gospel of peace. No excuses or justifications could stand in the scorching baptism of my king's commands. The pacification of the violent became my passion and the arrows in my quiver were the prophets, Jesus, early church fathers, Bonhoeffer, MLK Jr., Yoder, Day, Hauerwas. I relished in seeing every knee bow and every tongue confess to the truth of the gospel of peace. Passages like 2 Corinthians 10:5 took on fresh meaning:
"We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."
But the longer I stayed with these words they began to consume me in their aftermath. I began to see that the impact was far less life altering than the slow soak of their meaning. The call of the commands took on far greater applications than simply stop slaughtering one another, something I had never done anyway.
Matthew 5:20-22: “But I warn you — unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven! “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.
I began to see myself and my love for the 'sword' as being much more than an issue of just not joining the military. I began to see that my 'righteousness' was external and the real sword was unsheathed internally in my thoughts, desires, ambitions, passions, thirsts, drives, agendas, programs, plans, purposes, entertainments, toys, games, music, mannerism, grooming, affinities and even foods.
I was a man of blood, like David, I lived with a sword in one hand and a harp in the other. I could dream of temples and tortures equally.
So here I sit, condemned.
I am a barbarian as Paul called us. Judged as a murder before my thoughts even escape into word, let alone actions. I am bloodthirsty since the fall, like all men and women "my thoughts and imaginations are constantly evil," (Genesis 6:5).
I sit here, in need of a savior, to save me from myself and his words.
My righteousness is always coming up short. In my hands even God's word can become a weapon that I use to do harm. My hope no longer rests in being able to adhere to a moral code of ethical, ideological, philosophical or theological purity, my hope is in Christ, the Prince of Peace. I cannot save the world or myself — my hope is in the saving work and love of the Savior Jesus, and that sometimes brings peace to me and occasionally to others.
The dilemma of that reality never escapes me.