Ever since the tragic mass shooting at the high school in Florida last week, I’ve been engaged in daily advocacy for the U.S. to finally and firmly establish sensible gun laws to help reduce the number of mass shootings that take place every year. Hardly a day goes by without someone (most always a male) who has made an idolatrous fetish out of the 2nd Amendment engaging in one of the following attempts at cherry-picked proof-texting to back up their unspoken claim that Jesus was an advocate of packing heat.
It’s either, “He told them, “the one with a purse should take it, and likewise a bag; and the one without a sword should sell his cloak and buy one.” Luke 22:36
or, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Matthew 10:34
Both attempts to sway the debate about gun control by dropping those verses – are desperate efforts to rationalize and justify their decisions to own guns and belief that shooting guns for self-protection is somehow “What Jesus Would Do.” Let’s look at each one at a time.
In that first passage, we see someone deceitfully only sharing a portion of the actual text. In it’s entirety it reads: “The one with a purse should take it, and likewise a bag; and the one without a sword should sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in Me: ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about Me is reaching its fulfillment.” So they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” “That is enough,” He answered. – Jesus, Luke 22:336-38
In many ways all of the New Testament is a riffing on the books of the Hebrew Scriptures – what we call the “Old Testament.” It’s like jazz. One cannot properly understand the New Testament without being very familiar with the Old. The author of the Gospel of Luke pulls a minor prophecy about the coming Messiah and his followers (Isaiah 53:12) to help provide yet one more bit of proof-texting evidence that Jesus truly is the Messiah. The prophecy that he brings up here is the notion that the coming Messiah and his followers would be perceived as unrighteous – perhaps even as bandits and outlaws. So, Luke has Jesus saying (paraphrased):
“Say fellas, we’re about to enter Jerusalem for the last time and they’re going to be expecting us to look like bad guys so we may as well look the part. How about going out and buying some swords for our costumes?” When Jesus learns that the disciples already had two swords among them, he yells “Enough!”
You can imagine his dismay to learn that some of the men who had been traveling with him for three years and hearing his consistently nonviolent teachings would still have 1 foot in worldly ways by actually having weaponry on them. Notice, none of the disciples purchased any further weapons. Clearly, if this exchange happened at all and wasn’t just some creative invention of Luke, it was about appearances and symbolism. Twelve men going into a town with two swords among them was hardly a militant strike force seeking to violently overthrow Roman rule. And, when Peter pulled out his sword as Jesus was being arrested and used it on someone, Jesus soundly rebuked him saying,
“Put your sword away for all who draw the sword will die by the sword!” – Jesus, Matthew 26:52
Jesus’s teachings were entirely nonviolent and consistent. He calls us to “love our enemies” – not to kill them. He didn’t call us to be passive doormats, instead he called for courageous, non-violent, non-cooperation, and assertively and publicly shaming oppressors.
[*The interpretation I’m sharing here isn’t just mine. My views aren’t some unknown outlier, here’s a link to another Christian – one of many – who sees things as I do.]
And now let’s look at that second attempt for the NRA to infiltrate and subvert Jesus’ teachings – again, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Matthew 10:34
When we put that verse from Matthew in context with the comparable verse in Luke – “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” – we see that Jesus is clearly referring to a sword of division. It is a metaphor. He’s not talking about a literal sword. And he certainly isn’t endorsing violence. Again, we do well to put that cherry-picked verse back into it’s full context. In full (adding in verses 52 & 53) it reads: “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (See also verses 35 & 36 in Matthew’s version)
Luke’s Jesus (and Matthew’s) is simply making the accurate observation that whether or not people believe in him – in his radically loving way, teachings, and example – will be a cause of division within families. Some family members will get it and come ’round to the life-giving and wholeness providing beauty of following Jesus and his counter-cultural ways – and other family members will not – instead being more loyal to worldly, imperial ways. Frankly, this all says more about what was taking place in the early Jewish Christian communities several decades after Jesus’ death (when the gospels known as Matthew and Luke were written) than about what was actually going on while Jesus was alive. And, ironically, this is what is still taking place today within the supposedly Christian families in the United States.
I’m not going to say that some of my fellow Christians are not Christians. However, many American Christians are not very good Christians. That might sound a bit “divisive.” So be it. So was Jesus. Remember that whole “sword of division” metaphor? Too many of my fellow Christians attempt to serve two masters. They say they have faith in God, but they really have faith in guns instead. They say they trust in God’s grace, but they really rely on the ability to pour lead into anyone who breaks into their home. They say they believe the Bible, but they really prefer to “stand their ground” and adhere to certain interpretations of one of the amendable amendments in the Bill of Rights. They say they believe that all fellow humans are loved children of God, but they idolatrously train and practice playing God zealously preparing to take the lives of God’s children.
Click on these links for More Theological Explorations of these matters from a Christian perspective:
1. “Jesus – an unwanted Christmas present”
2. “O We of Little Faith”
3. “A Kinder, Gentler, More Grown-up Easter”
The following are some excellent articles & studies that address these matters from secular perspectives:
Gun deaths now exceed (or are close to exceeding) Automobile Deaths in the United States. Why? Because we have sensible regulations regarding how cars are built, which ones are allowed on the road, the roads themselves, insuring autos, and testing those who operate them. The very things that we do not have adequately in place regarding guns.
Stats showing how banning assault rifles is massively helpful: “gun massacres fell 37 percent during the ban period and in the ten years after it lapsed in 2004, they went up an alarming 183 percent. …the ban on high-capacity magazines holding more than 10 rounds made a huge difference. …if that is regulated, there will be a considerable drop in massacres and fatalities.”
What worked in Australia. Seriously. It worked really well.
Plain talking common sense about AR15s: “These are not deer rifles. They are not target rifles. They are people killing rifles. Let’s stop pretending they’re not.”
Anglican priest who tells it like it is. “WHEN WILL THEY LOVE THEIR KIDS MORE THAN THEIR GUNS” “[The U.S.] is a culture that loves guns more than children has no future other than corruption, decline and death”
The family of the inventor of the AR 15 Weighs in. “Our father, Eugene Stoner, designed the AR-15 and subsequent M-16 as a military weapon to give our soldiers an advantage over the AK-47,” the Stoner family told NBC News late Wednesday. “He died long before any mass shootings occurred. But, we do think he would have been horrified and sickened as anyone, if not more by these events.”
A Helpful article when seeking to advocate for more sensible gun control:
“…Before we begin, let me say that I am a gun owner and I have no issue with citizens owning guns. My father is an antique gun collector. My brother works in a gun store. One of my good friends is a national champion sharp-shooter. But as a passionate proponent of logic and reason, it pains me to see people making emotional arguments masked as logical ones.”
Having trained armed guards at schools is not the answer. Case in point. Moreover, 4 armed deputies hid instead of entering that school – that’s a total of FIVE trained good guys with guns. – Armed teachers ain’t got a chance.
An important reason that arming teachers is not the answer: – a racial one.
“I want them to be safe but there is absolutely NOTHING safe about giving white teachers of black and brown children guns. We already know that Black and Brown children are disproportionately punished in schools. We know that young white female teachers are often afraid of Black boys as young as eight years old. We know that Black girls are punished more severely than their counterparts. And you think that the solution to school shootings is for me to send my Black child to a school with armed white teachers? You will not use my child as a guinea pig for a new police state, so IF you arm white teachers, I’m pulling my Black son out of school.”
March for our Lives – Sat. March, 24, Washington, DC
Petition to sign to get the Government to repeal the Dickey Amendment to once again study these matters
XX – Roger
Rev. Roger Wolsey is a United Methodist pastor and author of Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity