Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (Genesis 49:5-7) transports me to the deathbed reading of the last will and testament for patriarch Jacob. He has called in all his sons to hear a series of blessings and cursings that foretell their doom and destinies. I love the ending of this chapter; when Jacob finished his family business, he drew up his feet, breathed his last, and was gathered to his people. Before that great reunion, he had just enough breath left to direct a few zingers at his boys, including some harsh words for the brothers in arms, Simeon and Levi. Had Moses amended the Ten Commandments with a Bill of Rights, these two would have been the poster children for the second amendment, the right to bear swords. Their father’s words must have cut them like a sword.
When I was a kid we had a lot of sword drills at church; it was a way for us to memorize the books of the Bible and get used to finding passages. Attention! Sheath swords! (put your Bible at your side). Draw swords! (bring your Bible up in front of you), and after a verse is called out, Charge! (try to be the first one to find the verse). I don’t remember the sword driller ever calling out Genesis 49 in any of our many competitions. Verses 5-7 were never among the memory verses we had to recite. I suspect this was a passage quite familiar to Jesus, though. He must have had the curses on Simeon and Levi in mind when he instructed his disciples to put away their swords, for those who live by the sword die by the sword. Father Jacob, who lived through some incredibly violent times, must have caused cardiac arrest among his sons when he lowered the boom on their fierce fury and vehement violence. Hamstringing oxen at their pleasure was an illustration of the kind of people they had become, and Jacob basically disowned them, so that when they would eventually draw their feet up and breathe their last they would not be gathered unto him and his people. Instead, they and their people would be scattered to the wind. It was the worst of curses for a father to lay on his sons.
Jesus took time to explain yet again to the disciples that his Way was nonviolent by choice. He could have chosen to come and lead a coup d’ état against the Romans. He could have easily given them a thrashing with legions of heavenly hosts. But he chose to die, to put sin to death, including the sin of swashbuckling bravado in the face of sinister forces. We are faced with this choice daily, as individuals, as communities, as a nation. When we face bullying and threats of terrorism do we live and die by the sword, or do we die and live by the Savior? We too can call on legions to do battle, or we can call on Christ to help us transform enemies through the power of love. When we rely on our human nature and follow our cultures cues, loving enemies is a highly unlikely choice. But it is a real option when we are immersed in God’s grace and mercy. It was the obvious choice for Jesus. As Loretta Lynn sang, He could have called ten thousand angels to destroy the world and set Him free, He could have called ten thousand angels, but He died alone for you and me. With that twanging voice in my mind, maybe I’ll have the courage to draw the peaceful sword of the Spirit of Christ and start charging toward the cross.
How about you? Where does this Promise Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.