I talked to Jesus this morning about gun control. I told him I have a twelve gauge shotgun and a .22 rifle, both for hunting, which I haven’t used for at least ten years. I keep them “just in case” I have the opportunity and time to go hunting, and “just in case” anyone storms my house and tries to take it from me. Jesus said, “It is enough” (Luke 22:38).
I don’t know what he’d have said if I had an arsenal that included assault rifles. He may have said the same thing, maybe not. Let’s check out the context in which he said it was okay to possess a weapon of some kind.
After the Passover supper, Jesus was preparing his disciples for an impending unpleasant experience of confrontation. He reminded them, “When I sent you out without money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Not a thing.”
“But now, if you have a money bag, take it. And a knapsack, take it. And he who has no sword, let him sell his outer cloak and buy one” (vs. 36-37).
I wonder why this incident never shows up in the lectionary for Sundays.
The disciples replied, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” He said, “It is enough” (vs. 38).
At least two disciples were packing! And I don’t think they were for hunting purposes. That kind of shocked me. What about you? And what are we to make of this?
Could there have been two swords hanging over the exit door to the room they rented for the Passover meal, and they were going to steal them or trade their outer cloaks for them? Yet if the gospel writer wanted to clear our minds of disciples packing weapons, he might have suggested where they came from.
Instead, Jesus said, “Two swords is enough.” Enough for what? For facing a lynch mob?
How would you like to go into a confrontation with thirty heavily armed professionals with a dozen men possessing two swords between them? That’s worse than leaving town with no money, no suitcase, no shoes. But, “It is enough.”
Were the disciples not supposed to use their swords? Later, when the confrontation occurred (vs. 49), they asked Jesus, “Shall we strike with the sword?” No answer. Someone acted hastily and cut off the right ear of the servant of the high priest. And wouldn’t you know it, it was Peter, the future first pope who was packing and acted impulsively.
Jesus answered, “Permit even this” (meaning, don’t resist with your weapons), and he healed the ear.
In Luke, Jesus didn’t scold the disciple for improper use of the weapon. In Mark’s version, no scolding. In Matthew and John, he said, “Put the weapon away. I don’t need your protection. Stop thinking you have to defend me. If I wanted a different outcome, I could have more help than I need. Nevertheless, I have a job to do.”
So why the swords as weapons?
Because the disciples were human, full of fear in the face of insurmountable odds. A sword gives one the sense (illusion/delusion or real feeling) of having some degree of power, ability to fight back or fight off an attack, or to buy a few seconds to make a hasty retreat.
If Jesus wanted to overcome his attackers, he wouldn’t have said two swords were enough. If he wanted to defeat the enemy, he would have taken other measures. But he knew a couple of weapons would provide the needed reassurance to a few of his disciples in a world where confrontation is real and sometimes imminent.
I didn’t raise this topic to defend or refute gun rights. At a recent meeting of clergy, our bishop noted that his participation in the ELCA Conference of Bishops two weeks ago revealed mixed opinions on this subject. They were not all in agreement on what should be done. Imagine that. And yet they weren’t shooting each other down with hollow-point words fired to injure, maim, or kill. No one decided to leave the denomination because everybody is supposed to think alike.
We are a body of people with the single purpose of sharing God’s love in Christ, trying to live together in peace despite our disagreements. And that’s a good thing. Unity in purpose does not require having the same opinions.
I’ve decided that if someone needs to own a sword, a gun, a tank, a Stealth Bomber, it merely reveals the level of fear they possess. Fear of loss…of the twenty dollars they have in their purse, of their credit cards, of their automobiles, of their household possessions, and, of course, their lives.
I don’t fear losing those things, not even losing my life. What kind of Christian would I be if I feared going to heaven?
What a gun packing person needs to think about is this: what am I really trying to hold onto so tightly that I’d be willing to watch another human being release his or her last breath in my mind for the next twenty or forty years? And what if my perception of the danger was skewed by fear more than reality?
What I fear more is the thought of having to live the rest of my life knowing I pulled the trigger that ended someone’s life – someone who was hungry, cold, homeless, rejected, trying to feed their family, mentally impaired due to hopelessness – because some try to make me think those in poverty are all taking advantage of the system.
I can only imagine what killing another person would do to my enjoyment of Clint Eastwood movies, or other violence-dependent themes filling the television schedules. Even I have this macabre sense of justice when a bad guy gets blown away. Yet we rarely get to see the rest of the story about the impact killing another person has on the shooter’s life.
If people want to pack weapons to protect themselves and their stuff, I hope they’ve given thought to the damage they will inflict on the future of their own mental health if they ever have to use them. We already see the damage some of our military personnel suffer when they have defended their nation in the killing fields. Many return and live in hell until they end their own lives.
Killing goes against the human psyche, even in defense. God created us for relationship and our hearts know it.
And yet, there’s a place for swords and guns. In some cases, they are a deterrent. In some cases, they reduce fear because there’s some sense of equalization of power and they open a door for negotiation.
Guns are for people who have given A LOT of thought to the burden they will bear if they ever have to use it against another human being, someone’s father, brother, child.
Yet guns facilitate a kingdom of tears, pain, and sorrow.
I can’t say that I’m sorry people around me pack guns. One of them may preserve my life someday. Hopefully, he or she won’t destroy his/her own in protecting mine. “Greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends.”
I just pray that people who feel the need to protect the world around them (1) know how to use their gun properly, (2) have given thought to what their life will be like should they ever use their weapon defending earthly stuff that will rust and rot away, and (3) if they ever have to use it, are able to remove fear and emotion from activating their trigger finger.
I don’t know why gun licensing and registration is a problem. You have to do that with your car, your occupation if you cut hair or sell insurance or provide medical services. You can’t buy certain medications for improving your health without the appropriate scrutiny. If I were a literalist, I’d quote Jesus: “Permit even this.” Require permits for all guns…and swords.
The debate about gun control is one of “where do we draw the line” about how much fire-power the average person should be able to possess. I leave that to the politicians. And I pray we can come to a common sense agreement rather than imitating the leaders of party politics who incite the flames of emotions and provoke us to use swords (and lethal words that terminate the unity of our nation) against each other.
I have a twelve gauge shotgun and a .22 rifle. For me, that is enough.