“Live by the sword die by the sword” is a proverb that is as true today as it was almost 2,000 years ago. What was the original context of this saying?
Last night my Mexican homestay student during our conversation over dinner about how his day had gone mentioned that he was now afraid about going to a shopping centre in downtown Nanaimo because someone had been murdered there. I hadn’t heard about it so I checked out a local online news source to see if this was true. Public street murders are rare in Nanaimo, a small city of about 100,000 people on the east shore of Vancouver Island. Sure enough, someone had been repeatedly stabbed and had died from the wounds. Was it part of the uptick of random “stranger attack” violence or something else? Fear is on the rise in many Canadian big cities like Toronto these days. What should I tell my homestay student? And as for myself, well I regularly go shopping where that murder occurred. Should I change my shopping habits to avoid the area?
The next day I decided to go shopping at a store near the murder site. They had a sale on some beef sirloin tip roasts, which I wanted to take advantage of, you know, food being so expensive these days. As luck would have it in the check out line there was a RCMP officer, kitted out in SWAT team drab olive fatigues with the letters “DOG POLICE” printed in large letters on his body armour immediately before me. So I decided to have a conversation with the officer and opened with a joke.
“So you’re the dog police, eh? So you’re the guy the dogs call when they don’t get enough kibble or long enough walks?” The policeman smiled at me and laughed saying, “Well, that’s a new one. Most people just say something like, ‘It wasn’t me.'”
I responded, “Well, my conscience is clear. But I am wondering, officer, do you know anything about the murder that took place here yesterday?” (The police weren’t publicly releasing any information.) The DOG POLICE officer responded, “Yes, I do know a lot about it. But you and the general public don’t have to be concerned because this one was strictly a live by the sword die by the sword situation. I responded, “I’m impressed officer. You know some Scripture. Thank you for sharing.” And so, when I went home I looked up the Scripture to refresh my memory about its context and to reflect on its teaching:
Judas (one of the original Twelve disciples) showed up, and with him a gang from the high priests and religious leaders brandishing swords and clubs. The betrayer (Judas) had worked out a sign with them: “The one I kiss, that’s the one—seize him.” He went straight to Jesus, greeted him, “How are you, Rabbi?” and kissed him. Jesus said, “Friend, why this charade?Then they came on him—grabbed him and roughed him up. One of those with Jesus (Peter) pulled his sword and, taking a swing at the Chief Priest’s servant, cut off his ear. Jesus said, “Put your sword back where it belongs. People who use the sword die by the sword! Don’t you realize that I am able right now to call to my Father, and twelve companies—more, if I want them—of fighting angels would be here, battle-ready? But if I did that, how would the Scriptures come true that say this is the way it has to be?” (Matthew 26:49-54)
Jesus’ destiny as the Lamb of God was to allow Himself to be arrested and then murdered (slaughtered as a Passover sacrifice) to pay the blood price needed to cover the spiritual debt that all of us have incurred by our sins (transgressions of God’s Law). But even at such a critical moment in his ministry, Jesus used the occasion to teach his disciples to avoid the trap of using physical violence to deal with some dispute. Something, evidently, that was never learned by the two people involved in Nanaimo’s drug trade who recently met and then settled their conflicted account with the knife.