And the Lord said, "Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren." But he said to Him, "Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death." Then He said, "I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me."
And He said to them, "When I sent you without money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything?" So they said, "Nothing." Then He said to them, "But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one. For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in Me: 'And He was numbered with the transgressors.' For the things concerning Me have an end." So they said, "Lord, look, here are two swords." And He said to them, "It is enough."
- Luke 22:31-38
Yesterday we read that when the hour had come for the Passover supper, He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him. Then He said to them, "With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, "Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me." Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you. But behold, the hand of My betrayer is with Me on the table. And truly the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!" Then they began to question among themselves, which of them it was who would do this thing. Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest. And He said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called 'benefactors.' But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves. But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials. And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel."
And the Lord said, "Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren." But he said to Him, "Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death." Then He said, "I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me." In the first verse ("Indeed, Satan has asked for you . . ."), you is plural. It indicates all the disciples. But in the second verse ("I have prayed for you . . ."), you is singular, meaning that Jesus has prayed especially for Simon Peter. My study bible says that because Peter's faith was the strongest, he would be tested the most. For that which takes place "when you have returned to Me" see John 21:15-17. Jesus tells Peter, "Strengthen your brethren," referring not only to the other disciples, but to all faithful until the Return of Christ.
And He said to them, "When I sent you without money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything?" So they said, "Nothing." Then He said to them, "But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one. For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in Me: 'And He was numbered with the transgressors.' For the things concerning Me have an end." So they said, "Lord, look, here are two swords." And He said to them, "It is enough." My study bible tells us that the sword is not to be understood literally, but rather refers to the living word of God in the battle against sin (Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12). St. Ambrose views giving up one's garment and buying a sword as surrendering the body to the sword of martyrdom. In both cases, sword is connected to the truth of the word of God, martyr being the Greek word for "witness." But the disciples were thinking of swords literally, and Jesus abruptly ends the discussion when it's reported He says, "It is enough." My study bible says this would be better translated, "Enough of this!" (see Deuteronomy 3:26, Mark 14:41). The prophecy ("And He was numbered with the transgressors") is from Isaiah 53:12.
However we are to understand Jesus' use of the word sword, it is clear from today's reading that a great evil is coming. Jesus is warning about the time that is imminent, about to come. It's a time of betrayal and of the power of forces that will be fighting His Church, His faith, His ministry, His word. He warns St. Peter: Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. Jesus' warnings about taking a money bag, and knapsack, and selling a garment to buy a sword intentionally remind the disciples of their first missionary journey, in which they went out in humility and poverty preaching the kingdom of God (see Luke 9:1-6). His words teach them that now the kind of opposition that will come is much stronger than what they experienced before. Betrayal is about to come, and He will be crucified. He has already warned them about the persecution that is to come to the Church. But there's a kind of depth to His warning, and it's one that is also deeply personal. He tells St. Peter that Satan has asked for him, and desires to sift him as wheat. This is a kind of threat that has to do with internal struggle, with temptation and weakness. It's important to understand the nature of such a struggle with our own weak points and vulnerabilities to manipulation, half-truths, and assaults on our faith. This can be a time of testing that really has to do with where we can be subject to the very things that try us the most, having to do with our particular vulnerabilities. The worst temptations aren't necessarily the obvious, but the subtle. Peter will fail his own test in front of a servant girl, denying Christ this very night, although he swears he would go to prison and die with Christ. But Jesus "will be numbered among the transgressors," and they will all be subject to every kind of pressure, to opposition of all they know and trust, their very identities in question, their deepest loyalties laid bare and challenged. It is the power of the internal trial that evil uses against us, and where we're vulnerable. This is why strength is needed that comes through grace, why faith practices like prayer and fasting have always been relied upon. Times that test who we are will demand our deepest humility, our willingness to sacrifice the things to which we're attached, our capacity to give up false hope, and find it only where it can be truly rooted. These are internal struggles, such as that exemplified by Peter, exacerbated by external circumstances. This depth of inner struggle for faith is what is known as "spiritual battle" -- all our vulnerable points are tried. What Peter's example must teach us is that our own weakness is not in itself evil, not grounds for any decision that we're not fit for our faith. He will return to His brethren, and be their strength. It is love that conquers everything -- even the worst of times. It is the capacity for grace to allow us to go through the difficulties and challenges, to return to Christ, to find our way. The Cross becomes the way: we go through our struggles, with Him, and come to the other side of them, through repentance and growth in faith. This is the work of salvation, the true building of the Church, stone by stone.