Gethsemane, Guns, and God

If the Bible is the word of God it has to be relevant to us today.  If it is not relevant, it’s not the word of God.  We can take the ancient text of the Bible, place it in its historic and literary contact and then lean forward and see how it may apply today.  This is the beauty of our sacred text, it is why it has stood the test of time.

As Holy week comes to a close, we continue our journey from the palm parade to the cross.  Jesus has entered Jerusalem on a donkey, making an in your face protest against the state and the corrupted organized religion of his day.  Our next stop with Jesus is a garden to pray.  Surrounded by the blooms of flowers and the smell of the olive trees, Jesus prays.

The cost of taking on both the empire and the religious leaders was great.  Jesus knew that the cross was imminent.  Not necessarily because he was an all-knowing God in the flesh or because it was his mission on earth to come to be slaughtered.  Rather, it was the natural outcome of his political gospel (good news).  And sure enough, his prayers are interrupted, “Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people” (Matthew 26:47).  There was no way those in power were going to give up that which made them wealthy for some Kingdom of God, so they came well-armed.

The scripture continues, “Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear.  Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword’” (Matthew 26:51-52).  There is a great debate in the United States of America whether or not a person has the right to own any kind of weapon they desire and if they have the right to carry it around with them where ever they go.  Some claim that they have an unfettered right to own as many weapons of any sort as they can afford, while claiming that the USA is a “Christian Nation.”  So, let us lean forward into this scripture and see what it may speak to this “Christian Nation” today.

If Jesus went to the Washington D.C. Mall to pray in 2018 instead of Gethsemane in 33 AD the scripture may read more like this, “Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his gun, drew it, and shot the slave of the high priest, shooting off his ear.  Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your gun back into its place; for all who take the up a gun will perish by the gun’”  Violence begets violence.  The only way to stop violence is for someone to make peace.

However, the argument goes, “That is dangerous!  The ‘good guy’ will be slaughtered and the world will be full of ‘bad guys’.”  The Good News of Jesus is dangerous.  It leads to an execution.  Historically, the lives of those who advocate for peace and justice never ends well.  Think Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and others.  Jesus invited us to pick up a cross and follow him, not grab a gun and start fighting.

Sure, it is terrifying.  God, thorough Jesus, is asking us to live dangerously by confronting hate and violence with love and peace.  This doesn’t seem like a fair “gun fight.”  This is probably why the scripture continues and tells us, “Then all the disciples deserted him and fled” (Matthew 26:56).  Leaning forward into the scripture once again, I ask, isn’t this what many followers of Jesus still do today?  When asked to give up their stock piles of weapons for the peace and safety of all they abandoned the radical teaching of Jesus for a more palatable one.  Each day we wake to news of gun violence in the United States.  Will we take up the cross and follow Jesus or will we desert him and flee?