Here is the article I wrote for the "Religion" column in this week's local Waverly newspaper. I hope it is helpful.
WHAT WOULD JESUS PACK?
There has been a lot of passionate conversation about guns in our country, especially recently, due to horrible mass shootings at schools, churches, concerts and elsewhere.
This prompts the question - or should prompt the question - for Christians to earnestly ask: What would Jesus do…about guns? What would Jesus have us do?
As someone who continues to explore the presence of humor in scripture, I’d suggest that Jesus’ response is rather funny!
After all, Jesus is often presented as someone who chooses to engender laughter. For one thing, he prefers to teach in parables (aka “riddles”): deceptively simple stories carrying a punch line that those who think they're “in the know” will find offensive (but the outliers can certainly enjoy!). For example, by suggesting a mustard seed or plant as metaphor for the Kingdom of God, Jesus is telling his audience God’s realm is like a virulent, noxious weed. Whaat?
One of my favorite of Jesus’ enlightenments comes in Matthew 6:25-34, where, after a detailed flowery (pun intended) lesson on the futility of worrying, worrying about anything, because if God clothes the lilies of the field and feeds the sparrows God will certainly care for us, Jesus says, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Hunh? Didn’t Jesus just say we shouldn’t worry at all? Why is he saying “Limit your worrying to today, because that will give you plenty to stew on”???
This confounding ending of Jesus’ otherwise very clear speech strikes me as more than a little sardonic, poking fun at the realities of human nature. While of course we SHOULD not worry and instead trust God for everything, of course we are NOT going to be able to do that. We’re too messed up! But rather than yelling at his listeners and angrily condemning them, Jesus invites them to get the irony of what he’s saying and laugh at themselves and their foolishness. Maybe that way they’ll (we’ll) find it easier to actually change. (Maybe not to the point of not worrying at all, but at least worry way less…maybe even to about half of today! :) )
This brings me to what I think Jesus would say about guns.
Of course, there were no guns in his day. The weapon of choice was the sword.
And, as attested to in all four Gospels, Jesus didn’t think much of them, or anything that encouraged violence. “He who lives by the sword dies by the sword” Jesus scolds at Matthew 26:52 when one of his disciples slices off the ear of a slave accompanying those arresting him in the Garden of Gethsemane. This comes after he taught them “blessed are the meek and the peacemakers” in his Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus tells Pilate in John 18 that his Kingdom is not of this world; that is why his disciples weren’t needing to arm themselves and battle Rome in order to bring it about.
In our lectionary gospel reading last Sunday from Mark 8 we heard Jesus call his followers to lose their lives for the Gospel and for others; to fall on a sword, as it were, rather than wield one.
And then we have a most-curious passage at Luke 22:35-38. It’s part of a speech Jesus is making to his disciples before he’s arrested and crucified and will forever end his relationship with them as an earthly being.
Jesus asks them how it worked when he told them to go out in the world and share the Gospel carrying nothing on their person - no purse, no bag, no sandals. They were to rely wholly on the provision of God and the hospitality of strangers.
The disciples respond it worked great.
“But now,” Jesus says, “the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag, and the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one.”
Wow! Clearly things have changed in Jesus’ thinking!
And it seems the disciples are clearly ready for the switch. Because his disciples promptly pipe up, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” I can’t help but think there should be an exclamation point after this sentence. The disciples sure sound excited as they present to Jesus what they are apparently already carrying (even though they’re still not supposed to have anything on them, right?). And it’s not one sword they show him, it’s TWO! They are clearly ahead of the curve!
Then Jesus responds, it seems to me, most dryly, “It is enough.”
I can’t help but think Jesus is a little taken aback by the disciples’ immediate willingness to bring out their weapons, and in even greater number than instructed. This speaks to me of what often happens when it comes to our perceived need for weapons, or for anything. We tend to go overboard and, hence, accumulate way more than is needed, or even helpful.
In the present instance, Jesus suggests some self-defense will now be necessary. But only some. Trusting in God’s protection will still, as always, be paramount.
But rather than say that, or scold disciples for already carrying swords, he cajoles sardonically, not unlike the way he suggests we at least limit our worrying. Jesus says, let’s then just stop with a but little more than what’s needed, so there will be but a little more possibility of unholy bloodletting. Before things get out of hand in no seconds flat!
It makes me laugh - and wistfully sigh - as I’m sure at least some of Jesus’ first followers responded. We humans have such a hard time being the loving, faithful creatures God created us to be. But one of the ways we can always be better, bit by bit, is by laughing at our fears and foibles.
If, as a result of recent tragedies, we can now let the Gospel bring us to laugh at ourselves and start pulling back on our perceptions as to how much weaponry we truly need, refusing to bend to worries about managing with less, and if we then discover how this movement brings us closer to God and each other, I think Jesus would…will be…most pleased.