Jesus and Swords

 

if-you-dont-own-an-ar-15-sell-your-cloak-and-buy-one-luke-2236
Filed under “Thing Jesus Never Said.”

Earlier today I was involved in a discussion about gun policy and then it happened: Someone said, “Jesus would be in favor of guns, he told his followers to buy a sword! SEE! LOOK!” They then quoted Luke 22:36: “‘But now,’ he said, ‘take your money and a traveler’s bag. And if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one!'” This was something I expected, as many Christians have used this one verse to try and state that Jesus would be against gun control. There’s just one problem with this line of thinking: That is not what Jesus meant. As Dr. Ben Witherington III is fond of saying:

 

A text without a context is merely a pretext for a proof text and it can be whatever you want it to be.

The problem with employing an ultra-literal interpretation of scripture and a hermeneutic of “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” is that such interpretations ignore important items such as context, cultural considerations, and good old-fashioned common sense. Using so-called “gotcha” texts to make a point that goes beyond any reasonable context for scripture is a poor witness for Christ. Further, while scholars believe that literal interpretation of scripture is considered a high view of scripture, I believe that such is actually a low view because an ultra-literal interpretation does a great disservice to the authors and intended ultimate message of scripture: The story of God’s love for us.

Simply stated: Jesus is not telling his followers to arm themselves. He is not calling for any sort of armed insurrection, revolution, or otherwise telling Christians that employing violent tactics is the way of a disciple. Here is what noted new testament theologian – and professor at Asbury Theological Seminary – Craig Keener said about this passage in the IVP Bible Background: New Testament.

By mentioning the “sword” here Jesus is not inviting revolution like the Zealots did (cf. Pseudo-Phocylides 32–34). Instead, Jesus calls for a temporary and symbolic act—two are sufficient (v. 38)—so he may be charged as a revolutionary and hence “reckoned among transgressors” in accordance with Isaiah 53:12… To be without one’s outer cloak at night would leave one cold; yet Jesus suggests that it is better than being unprepared for the conflict these disciples are about to face.

So, no, Luke 22:36 is not a call for Christians to arm themselves. It’s about the fulfillment of prophecy, specifically a prophecy that said that the messiah must be charged as a criminal. More proof of this comes from verse 37: “For the time has come for this prophecy about me to be fulfilled: ‘He was counted among the rebels.’ Yes, everything written about me by the prophets will come true.” Being with people who were armed with swords would certainly give the Romans cause to allege that Jesus was planning an armed revolution against the Roman Empire, therefore fulfilling the prophecy from Isaiah 55.

To think that Luke 22 calls Christians to arm themselves is just plain wrong. Such a notion also flies in the face of the other teachings of Jesus where he encourages peace, non-violence, and to put down their weapons (remember the scene where Jesus stops a stoning?). Further, one taking scripture completely out of context in order to fit their own belief is tantamount to re-constructing God into their own image. Let us remember that the will of God is not violence, but peace. I close with the words of the prophet Isaiah, and also long for the day when this prophecy is fulfilled. May it be during our lifetime.

“They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.”

Tired

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak” Isaiah 40:39 (NIV).

prayerful crossOn Sunday morning, I will stand behind the pulpit at Shiloh United Methodist Church and preach a message of hope on this second Sunday of Advent. Before I do that, I will help the congregation sing some wonderful songs and further prepare each other for the birth of our Lord. Before I preach and after we share a warm welcome and music, I will share prayer concerns. I will, yet again, ask the saints of Shiloh to join me in praying in the aftermath of yet more mass violence and domestic terrorism.

I am not looking forward to having to do that yet again. Quite frankly, I’m tired of having to ask people to join me in prayer after yet more violence.

I’m tired of turning on the news and, almost daily, hearing of more violence against innocent people in the world. Not only here in the United States but all over the world there are incidents of mass violence where people who had absolutely nothing to do with whatever situation brought about the incident are losing their lives. Their loved ones – parents, children, spouses – are left behind to try and pick up the pieces.

I’m tired of thinking of what I would tell my daughter in order to try and explain why people do these evil things. I’m tired of seeing posts on social media from parents who are having the same struggles. No child should ever have to be told why a man went into a building and just started shooting people for no reason other than he was deranged, angry or under some other evil influence. Yet, when these things happen so often in the USA the kids have to be told something. If we don”t tell them, someone else will. That makes the job of a parent harder.

I’m tired of words being spoken and written, offering prayers for mercy, healing, for a miracle to happen which will stop these atrocities from happening. This is not me saying we shouldn’t pray and encourage others to pray – quite the opposite – but I also think that there comes a point where for many people such things are mere words. This is my opinion to take it for what it’s worth: I think God is tired of it too. Oh, I don’t doubt His ability to stop all the violence and someday He will with the return of Jesus. We read in scripture that on that day all things will be made new, every tear wiped away, ever bad thing made right. But in the meantime, God desires to use us in His work in the world. Unfortunately, we are not willing to participate. Instead we expect God to do it alone when using us is His desire.

“I shook my fist at Heaven, said, ‘God, why don’t You do something?’ He said, ‘I did, I created you’” – Lyric from “Do Something” by Matthew West.

I’m tired of angry rhetoric on social media and in the news media. People are quick to jump up and say “we should ban guns” while others say “don’t blame the gun, it was the shooter.” People present “facts” left and right about why they are right and everyone else is wrong and, therefore, a terrible person. Have we not learned by now that playing the blame game does absolutely nothing? Nothing changes when we play “keyboard cowboy” and spout off angry posts placing blame on an object or opinion. At the end of the day, none of that matters. The problem is evil. That’s what’s to blame.

But having said that…

I’m tired of nothing being done about it. As mentioned above, we like to offer words of prayer but can’t be bothered to act. We don’t hold our elected officials accountable for their inaction on this issue. I’m not proposing we ban guns or take guns from people. What I am saying is that something must be done. We must make the ability to purchase a gun more strenuous than merely providing a birthday and social security number for a very rudimentary background check. I believe we should do more to curb the illegal gun trade. Before you start trashing me and calling me names, you need to know that I say all of this as a gun owner and a proponent of the right to responsibly own and use firearms.

Will any of that stop all gun crimes? Of course not but it’s a step in the right direction. We can no longer justify sitting on our hands and allowing the gun lobby to use fear to stop us from enacting proactive change.

The bottom line is that I’m tired of the status quo. There comes a time when change is needed and this is it. We can no longer allow the United States to be a country where mass violence and domestic terrorism is considered “just another day.” Our mamas raised us better than that. It’s time to act like it.