Look no further than the Bible. All four gospels report the violent episode that takes place when Judas and the soldiers come to seize Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus of course is prepared to go along peacefully. Peter, meaning well but unclear on the concept, draws his sword and cuts off the ear of the high priest’s slave.
Okay, uncalled for – nobody’s disputing that. And of course, after putting the ear back where it goes, Jesus reprimands Peter, telling him, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given me?”
I’m not what you would call a Bible scholar in the strict sense (or really, any sense), but I think a few things jump out right away. First, Jesus expresses no surprise of disapproval that Peter has a sword. Second, he does not tell Peter to get rid of the sword or to hand it over to the soldiers. Third, he tells Peter to keep his sword, albeit with the admonishment to be less hasty in its use – “he who lives by the sword shall die by the sword.” Sound advice, no doubt. If you go around cutting off ears or holding up gas stations, your chances of arriving in the hereafter with a couple extra holes in your own hide increase dramatically. And this is what Jesus seems to say to Peter: Keep your weapon, carry it around even, but be judicious in how you use it.
In fact, we can learn as much from what Jesus didn’t say as we can from what he did say. Let’s look at this for a minute from the perspective of all the different things Jesus could have said to Peter, but chose not to. To list but a few:
1. “Peter, you have a sword?! What are you doing with that? How can you call yourself my disciple?”
2. “Oh no, a sword! Quick, call the authorities! Oh yeah, heh heh. Hi, authorities.”
3. “Peter, it’s okay that you have a sword, but you should have kept it locked up at your house…what do you mean homeless? Well then, at least you should have kept it tied to the donkey.”
4. “Peter, that sword is too long. Who needs a sword that long? You don’t need a sword that long to go hunting.”
5. “Peter, I’m disappointed in you. You should have traded that sword in last month when they had that exchange program at Herod’s palace. A gift certificate to Galilee-Mart could have gone a long way.”
6. “Dude, Andrew! Did you catch that on your iPhone? No, keep it on. Check this out what I do with the ear.”
So you see, if Jesus was opposed to Peter having a sword, or keeping it on his person, there a several things he could have said. But he didn’t. Scriptures opened, case closed.
And if it’s okay with Jesus, shouldn’t it be okay for America?