Jesus said to them, “When I sent you out without a wallet, bag, or sandals, you didn’t lack anything, did you?”
They said, “Nothing.”
Then he said to them, “But now, whoever has a wallet must take it, and likewise a bag. And those who don’t own a sword must sell their clothes and buy one. I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in relation to me: And he was counted among criminals. Indeed, what’s written about me is nearing completion.”
They said to him, “Lord, look, here are two swords.”
He replied, “Enough of that!” (Luke 22:35-38, CEB translation)
I am tired of being traumatized.
It happens so quickly, without warning. This morning it was the headline on my iPhone about 12 dead in a horrific shooting in a California bar. Ironically, such a headline would be classified as a “trigger” for me. What does it trigger? It sends me cascading back in time to 18 years ago when I was on the inside of a “Do Not Cross” police line, trapped in a building where police were working to contain another school shooting, one that would only result in 2 deaths, but that probably prevented countless others, including very possibly my own. I was safely escorted from the building, but marked from then on as a “school shooting survivor.”
I never get to let go of that reality. I would like not to have to relive it so often, though.
I also wish I was more alone than I am. At this point, though, there are now thousands of us in this country. Thousands of people get to be retraumatized and retraumatized over and over while our nation stands still and allows more and more of us to join this less and less elite club.
The other thing about these trigger headlines is that there is no predictability to how I will react. Reflecting on 18 years of shootings, there appears to be only one predictable reaction: if children are the primary victims, I cannot watch or read about the shooting at all. I only get the initial news, and then I remove myself completely. I can’t go there. I just can’t.
Today’s social media news, though, also included a post from my bishop, Bishop Gary Mueller. It read:
“My heart breaks again. My anger rises. So many senseless shooting deaths. So little outrage. So many wasted opportunities to address this issue. What will it take to move us to action? In your mercy, Christ, hear our prayers, stir our hearts and move us to action.”
I fail at this too. Over and over and over. My own brokenness gets in the way all too often, and my reaction is one of numbness rather than action. But when I can help, I try. Sometimes my response is slow. I sometimes need time to reflect, and by then we are on to the next thing, and all too often the next thing is the next shooting.
So this time, I find myself reflecting on something I could not a few months ago. It was another sort of trauma, one I had never experienced before. Because Arkansas changed their laws and now allows people to come into churches with guns unless a church has a specific policy about it, each church had to decide what it wanted to do. The United Methodist Church has a resolution that affirms both responsible gun ownership AND states that God’s house is a different place, and we should not bring guns into the Sanctuary. I wish that resolutions were binding on each congregation, but resolutions are more like strong recommendations. So each and every church had to decide on its own policy. I happened to have two churches, so I had to do this twice.
I am the wrong person to lead a church through such a discussion. It is not that I don’t have a strong theology, or a love for all people and a desire to hear every voice at the table. All of those things are true. I am the wrong person because there is no way for me to go through that discussion without deep wounds. The wounds are already there. The debate just rubs them raw.
You know what I want in those moments? What I really want? Honestly, I really want my people to look at my face, to consider my story, to see the hurt all over my body and soul, and for them to love me enough to say, “You know what, we have our own feelings about this issue, but we can’t choose those feelings right now. Our sister is in pain. For her, because we love her and know how much this hurts her, we are going to choose to protect her. There will be no debate. We just won’t have guns. Maybe we will revisit this policy when she is no longer our pastor, but for now we will choose to take care of her instead.”
Now, I want to say two things about that wish. First, I am not the only one who has strong feelings about this issue. I may have been the only school shooting survivor in the crowd, but not the only one who has confronted fear and threat in her lifetime. Everyone really wants to be heard and understood when we talk about gun control. On some level, feeling heard makes us feel validated as people. Feeling heard makes us feel loved. For me to expect special treatment in the midst of that is probably unfair. Second, my role was to be the spiritual leader in that moment. My role, for better or worse, made little room for brokenness. Again, to expect that people would allow me to be broken may have been unrealistic.
But I was still broken, and so I do not think I managed that debate as well as I could have. There is one particular moment that I think I failed at miserably. It was when a parishioner announced he was leaving because we would not allow him to arm himself, and Jesus tells us to arm ourselves when we face threat. Then he quoted Luke 22:35-38.
My response was a non-response. I just let the man go. But I have been haunted by leaving that interpretation of Jesus’ words unchallenged ever since. So, too little too late, I feel called in this moment to respond to that interpretation.
First, he was working not from the CEB, as I do above, but instead from the NIV. Let me first say that the CEB is the official UMC translation, so that’s why I come from that one. Still, for a minute let’s meet this man where he is. Here is how v. 38 reads in the NIV:
The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”
“That’s enough!” he replied.
Now, Jesus’ response can have 2 different meanings there. One would be to take it as the CEB implies, that Jesus is scolding his disciples as if they are disobedient children, snapping, “That’s enough!” to shut them down. The other would be to assume that 2 swords were all that were needed to deal with the threats before them.
Admittedly, there are problems with both interpretations. First, if we are to understand Jesus as thinking 2 swords were plenty, really, 2 swords to go against the Roman guard? I mean, yeah, they have God with them, but come on! But then, if we are to think that Jesus is scolding them, then why did Jesus bother telling them to go buy swords in the first place?
This is a tough one, not easy to interpret. I will tell you that the Greek is a little ambiguous as well. You know what isn’t ambiguous, though? Luke 22:47-53.
While Jesus was still speaking, a crowd appeared, and the one called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him.
Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Human One with a kiss?”
When those around him recognized what was about to happen, they said, “Lord, should we fight with our swords?” One of them struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear.
Jesus responded, “Stop! No more of this!” He touched the slave’s ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders who had come to get him, “Have you come with swords and clubs to arrest me, as though I were a thief? Day after day I was with you in the temple, but you didn’t arrest me. But this is your time, when darkness rules.” (Luke 22:47-53, CEB translation)
That’s right, less than 10 verses later the disciples have an opportunity to use those swords, and they do, and Jesus jumps all over them for it. In addition, Jesus equates those who have brought swords and clubs with a time when darkness rules. The ambiguity of the previous line is gone. Jesus never intended for them to use swords, even knowing what was before them. Even knowing the threat they would encounter, he wanted them to reject violence and choose peace. He went all the way to the cross to show us how serious he was about that conviction.
So why would Jesus even tell them to buy swords in the first place? I think it was a moment when Jesus was naming their fear. In my head, there is a bit of sarcastic Jesus coming out in that passage. But even if he wasn’t sarcastic, maybe he was just giving voice to what he knew was in their heads. Then, he tried to tell them that he did not want them to have swords, but surprise! The disciples misunderstood him.
Now, we can debate whether this passage has applicability to our modern reality of guns in society now or not. But if someone does think it tells us we are to arm ourselves when we confront threat, then explain to me how you get around Luke 22:47-53? We can’t say the earlier passage is applicable to our modern situation, but the latter one was only applicable to Jesus’ arrest. It is one or the other.
Those are the words that I wish I had a year ago. I didn’t. I couldn’t. I was not in a place where I could reasonably talk about the Bible. I was driving instead from a place of loss and hurt. But I have those words today. I share them in hopes that they can help with the debate as we seek to be a people shaped by God’s reality instead of the reality of humans. May they be of some help to you.
That is what I can do today. I make no promises about tomorrow.