Obviously, Jesus didn’t own a gun, never said anything directly about firearms. He couldn’t have.
Of course, that won’t solve the debates now roiling this nation about violence and the people and tools that perpetuate it. Nonetheless, the fact that Jesus has nothing to say about guns has not stopped a number of pundits from extrapolating Jesus’ ethics on gun violence. In recent days, some Christians have tried to construct a case that Jesus himself would support self-defense in the form of individually-owned firearms. Others vehemently disagree. Agreement is as hard to find among Christians as it is among the nation more broadly.
What would Jesus have to say to us today about a culture we all admit is far too saturated with violence and death? How would he guide us in light of recent tragedies like Newtown and Aurora?
While events like these rightly elevate our sense that something must be done, it is the truly ordinary nature of our culture’s violence that ought to convince us to lay aside politics for the sake of our neighbors. Unfortunately, our political divisions foreclose most opportunities to have a reasonable conversation about such hot-button issues, even among people of common faith. But here’s one potential route for reflection.
What if we all gave up guns for Lent?
This last week, Christians around the world gathered to mark the beginning of Lent, the 40 days leading to Easter and the celebration of Jesus’ victory over the death. The first step on this annual pilgrimage is Ash Wednesday, when believers receive a tangible reminder of our mortality. With crosses of ash on our foreheads, we remind ourselves and the rest of the world that our bodies are frail, too easily broken, even as we look forward to God’s final victory over death.
As we begin this season of Lent, Luke 4:1-13 narrates Jesus facing a triad of famous temptations. In the passage, Jesus is impelled by the Holy Spirit to wander in the wilderness, the place of Israel’s ancient sojourn and also a place of great danger. For forty days, Jesus fasts, depriving his body of sustenance, giving up something vital and necessary. When he is at his weakest, the devil approaches.
First, the devil invites Jesus to turn stones into bread, to concoct sustenance in the midst of a barren desert. Jesus is certainly capable of such deeds. In fact, later in the narrative, Jesus will feed not himself but a crowd of 5,000 (see Luke 9:12-17). Jesus responds that we do not live by bread alone. That is, in all times and in all places, we rely on God and God alone for our sustenance. Jesus’ call is to feed others, not himself.
Second, the devil evokes a panoramic display of all the kingdoms of the world, telling Jesus that their power is in the devil’s hands. If Jesus will only worship him, the devil will hand their power over to Jesus. Luke seems to believe the devil here; the devil indeed has the power of the world’s kingdoms in his hands. When Luke looks at his world, he sees a massive empire capable of massive warfare and oppression with the devil at its reigns. But this empire will not fall by the exertion of military might but the path of service and sacrifice Jesus embraces. Jesus responds to this great temptation finally to free Israel from the bonds of Roman oppression by noting that we ought only to serve God. That is, in all times and in all places, only God is worthy of our worship. Jesus’ call is to exercise power through weakness.