When I heard of the mass-shooting in Sandy Hook elementary school, I was deeply moved and cried out to the Lord in prayer for the victim’s families and for
the nation as a whole. The fact that the victims were such young children made this incident much more poignant than any other mass shooting. But as Isabella and I followed the national response to the tragedy, including the teary Presidential speech, we wondered if, this time, something would really change.
It seemed, like with most tragedy that people forgot it all too quickly. After all if we were to take on board all the pain of the world that is delivered to our desktop, then we would soon be overwhelmed and crippled by the weight of it. How does anyone process the news of on-going atrocities in Syria and Afghanistan, lynch mobs in Pakistan, a mass shooting in an elementary school (Sandy Hook) and a brutal gang rape in Delhi all in the run up to their Christmas holidays?
That was a season for fine food and time celebrate Joy to the World and Peace to all Mankind. Now we are already well into the New Year. It is easier to make some jokes about gun control and move on. We close our hearts and tighten our grip on the little part of the world we control. This is the mechanism by which we can tune out to suffering and proceed with our own lives.
It serves us well when we need to overcome tragedy in our own lives. For indeed, there are times when we need to move on emotionally just to survive. When we are struggling to just keep our heads above water, it is understandable that we have to tune out the problems of people outside our sphere of influence. But the fact is that those of us with internet access are probably not trapped in a hand to mouth struggle to survive or overwhelmed in the midst of an existential crisis following a terrible bereavement – still how often do you afford yourself the luxury of indifference. After all it is much easier to watch another movie or add LOL to a YouTube clip than it is to get your hands a little dirty or open your heart to a suffering family.
There are moments when our God-given capacity for empathy is meant to lead to action that leads to change. We should allow tragedy to touch us deeply. Indeed, those who are hardest hit by tragedies like Sandy Hook are the ones who most need to get on with their lives, while those who are actually unaffected are the ones who should be stopping to think hardest. Why? Because we have a God-given responsibility to care that stems from the nature of God himself. This is expressed in the incarnation of Christ: God himself left the beauty, comfort and safety of heaven to get involved in a messy and tragic corner of the world.
Engaging in the debate on Facebook with my American friends and reading the commentaries and articles by experts I suspected that while the families involved will be scarred for life, the rest of the country will quickly move on and fail to do the soul searching that is necessary at times like this. Gun sales have risen again and it looks like the American people will as a whole resist any attempts to reduce the number of weapons of mass destruction in their communities.
It seems to be a rule of human nature that people only change when the price of staying the way they are becomes too painful. Similarly a nation will not change unless the majority of the voters or their elected representatives actually feel the pain or the price of not changing.
Unfortunately, success in politics demands having a fairly thick skin and the ability to often be indifferent to real pain. Instead political success in a democracy demands the ability to surf the waves of public opinion. So unless it is your child who died, the pain of another school shooting remains a short-lived, flutter of emotion followed a glance at the opinion poles. And such a glance informs you that it is probably not a wise career move to challenge the pro-gun lobby.
This is why we cannot look to politicians for leadership at times like this. On issues like this a truly prophetic voice is required, yet tragically the only ones speaking out are the so-called liberals and the institutional churches. Why is it that they so easily grasp the fact that an increase in private gun ownership is a recipe for more shootings while a decrease in gun ownership is a step towards a manifestation of the kingdom of heaven on earth? After all isn’t heaven a place where swords are beaten into ploughshares and the lions lie down with the lambs?
As I write breaking news informs me of yet another shooting – this time at a college in Houston, Texas with three wounded, reminding me that while Sandy Hook may already be a distant memory, the issue remains highly relevant.
But no matter what the news reports I will remain passionate about this issue because I am convinced that if I claim that Jesus is my personal saviour then it should be evident in the practical choices that I make. If I worship the Lord of Life – why do I need to carry a tool of death hidden in my underpants? If I represent the Prince of Peace why do I need to trust in the tools of war? And if every knee will bow at the Name of Jesus and I have been given all authority over demons, why do I assume that the only way to stop someone with lethal fantasies is to shoot them before they shoot me?
Of course, this may sound foolish, but that is the offense of the Gospel. It has always been branded foolishness. The idea that a willing surrender to brutal, evil force could ever lead to heaven on earth is ridiculous, but it is exactly what Jesus did. He voluntarily offered his life into the hand of sadists and torturers and in doing so; he shifted the balance of history and changed the course of millions of lives.
Why is it then, that those who profess to be most radical in their love of Jesus are so worldly-minded on this issue? Where is the foolishness and pa
sion that marked the lives of world changers down the ages? Paul who resolutely headed towards Rome via Jerusalem despite the prophetic certainty that he would be taken prisoner. Daniel, who resolutely prayed on his balcony knowing he would become cat food. What about Daniel’s three friends who refused to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar, the god of their age, saying effectively that thy would prefer to be burnt alive than to worship the spirit of tyranny. These men were confident “Our God will save us – and even if he does not – we still won’t bow.” This is the attitude that I am missing in the church today when it comes to overcoming the spirit of violence and the idol of the gun.
The parable of the two swords
There is a parable that Jesus gave us that is, I believe, relevant to any discussion on the issue of force and aggression. It is not a parable that he told, but one that he acted out. I call it the Parable of the Prince of Peace and the Two Swords.
It was the night of his betrayal. The feet washing and the Last Supper were over and the team of twelve were preparing to head out to the Garden of Gethsemane for an all night prayer meeting. Suddenly, Jesus reminds them of the time he sent them out with nothing. “This time, you need some swords,” he says. Peter does a quick check. “We have two!” he says, while his mind is racing to work out where they could get ten more at this late hour. “Two is enough!” says Jesus.
So equipped they head out to the Garden where after the anguished prayer of Jesus and the total failure of the disciples to keep watch, Judas finally shows up. Accompanied by a group of soldiers he moves in to identify Jesus for the arrest party by giving him a warm embrace and as was common among close friends and relatives – a kiss. Jesus rebuffs him calling him ‘comrade’ (instead of friend) while the dosing disciples shake of their sleep and struggle to work out what is going on. Peter’s sleepy mind finally pieces it all together. I speculate that he perhaps thought:
“Obviously Jesus wants us to put up a fight! That is why he asked for the swords and that is why he was so disappointed that we could not stay awake.”
“Lord shall we fight back?” says another disciple. But before the Lord can answer, Peter is charging the group, his deadly weapon drawn back to attack. There is a man named Malthus, who being the servant of the High Priest is probably the man sent to lead the arrest. Peter swings at his neck, but he ducks and the blade cuts off his ear.
“No, put the sword away,” says Jesus looking at Peter. “Those who take up the sword will die by the sword.” Then he turns to the whole group and says. “Don’t you realise I would have enough angels to protect me if I wanted to call them.” It sounds like an empty boast so as he has so often done, Jesus proves the truth of what he has just said with a miracle: “Please allow me!” he says and steps up to Malchus. Touching the wound he instantly heals the ear.
From the Bible account we don’t know how Jesus healed the ear: did he reattach the torn lobe or create a new ear? We don’t know, but we can clearly see that Jesus is sending a very specific message to the rulers of his age. He is telling them that while he could have resisted with earthly means or with heavenly resources, he is willing to submit to the spirit of the age this one time to accomplish a much greater purpose.
I believe it is also very significant that Malchus, the servant of the high priest will be a living testimony. Surely he will return to his master and report that the one they seek to crucify has the power of life in his hands.
Meanwhile, Peter once again is left devastated and confused. Perhaps he thought, “Why did Jesus call for swords earlier in the evening and then embarrass me publically when I used one? Jesus is always rebuking me in front of my friends. He makes me look so foolish.”
Still wrestling with these thoughts Peter follows at a distance and makes it to the scene beside the fire where he finally denies Jesus. He has realised that Jesus is not interested in his acts of bravery. Putting up a fight against the aggressor with human weapons doesn’t seem to count for anything in the Kingdom of God and perhaps Peter wonders what place he has in this kingdom where we are supposed to turn the other cheek and not to resist evil. Moments later he is denying that he ever met Jesus…
Like all the parables of Jesus this one will remain inaccessible to those whose ears and eyes are closed. But for those who are willing to enter the kingdom of heaven like a child, the lessons are obvious.
I was on the phone to a brother in Pakistan last week. I asked him what he felt about carrying weapons for personal security. This is common practice there in some regions, especially when a foreign preacher visits – like me. What amazed me was the clarity of his answer. “Some organisers use weapons because our nation will be in trouble with your nation if something happens to you. But for us, when we go to preach we never need weapons. If we were meant to have security then why did Stephen let them catch him and kill him? Why did Peter die for his faith? Where was his security? Why did Jesus himself go to the cross? Where was his security? No, for us it is clear. We do not put our trust in guns!”
His answer draws attention to another level of the debate – the fact that there is an international level. There is a level of State responsibility, evidenced by the fact that Jesus never told a soldier to leave the army. But that is a question for another time and maybe even another season.
© David M. Taylor January 23 2013