Q. Why do you suppose Jesus would tell the disciples to bring swords, and then they do, and then Peter cuts off someone’s ear, and then Jesus clearly thought that was a dumb move, and heals the guy? It seems like a weird sequence of events.
The events you’re describing happen on the last night of Jesus’ life on earth. At the Last Supper, he predicts Peter’s denial, and then warns the disciples that the circumstances of their lives and witness are going to change. He asks them, “When I sent you out to preach the Good News and you did not have money, a traveler’s bag, or an extra pair of sandals, did you need anything?” When they say “no,” he responds, “But now take your money and a traveler’s bag. And if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.”
It appears that there are some contexts that will be favorable to the life and witness of the community of Jesus’ followers, and in those contexts, it can count on what appears to be spontaneous support as God actually moves in people’s hearts to respond. (This happens, for example, when Paul proclaims the good news in Thyatira and a woman named Lydia is listening. Luke, who was traveling with Paul at the time, describes what happened: “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay at my house.’”
However, there are other contexts that are very unfavorable, indeed hostile, to the life and witness of the community of Jesus’ followers. In those contexts, it shouldn’t expect the support of outsiders. It has to supply its own provisions and it also needs to be prepared to defend and protect its members by reasonable means and precautions.
I think it’s significant that when the disciples reply to Jesus at the Last Supper, “Look, Lord, we have two swords among us,” he answers, “That’s enough.” Many biblical interpreters believe that Jesus is saying it’s all right for the disciples to have some weapons as a deterrent and basic protection in a hostile environment.
However, in the Garden of Gesthemane, Peter moves from defense to offense by attacking first. He also does this in a situation where the disciples are outnumbered and much less well armed than their opponents. Jesus rebukes him and heals the man he injured, in order to prevent a bloodbath.
So it appears that while the community of Jesus’ followers can adopt basic protections and precautions, when it encounters an overwhelming force bent on doing harm, its response must not be to fight to the last one standing, but to be willing to accept suffering as the means of continuing its witness.