Would Jesus Support Gun Control?

800px-The_capture_of_Christ_mg_1674
The Capture of Christ, painted by Grégoire Guérard, circa 1512

I’ve grown rather weary of the “what would Jesus do?” cliche because everyone is using it now. I would rather ask “what did Jesus do?” I think that’s a better question, because it helps to prevent us from injecting our own personal feelings and prejudices into the speculation. To be sure, the Jesus most people are acquainted with is not the real Jesus depicted in the Bible. The Jesus most people are familiar with is a sweet, syrupy, kind of pacifist Jesus, who would never hurt a fly, and is always telling everyone to “just be nice” to each other. This is not the real Jesus, but it is the contemporary Jesus, and it is prevalent in our culture. The Jesus I’m familiar with (you know, the one we actually read about in the Bible) was just as likely to call out people as hypocrites (Matthew 15:7), tell you to leave your family to follow him (Luke 9:59-62), and make a public scene cracking a whip while overturning tables (John 2:13-17). So which Jesus is it? Is it the sweet and pacifist, contemporary Jesus? Or the aggressive and radical, Biblical Jesus? For me, it’s never been about “what would Jesus do?” but rather “what did Jesus do?” These two questions can sometimes present very different answers.

To be clear, the motive driving all of Jesus’ words and actions is love. But people seem to have a rather warped view of love these days. The contemporary understanding of love is best defined by the saying “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” This is a catchphrase based on a line from the Erich Segal novel Love Story and was popularized by its 1970 film adaptation. The idea behind it is that if you really love somebody, and that person really loves you, no apology is ever necessary because nothing ever gives offense. Thus, the idea of “sin” is eradicated under the contemporary understanding of love.

So when this contemporary understanding of love is applied to the love of God, there is no sin. Lust ceases to exist. Idolatry ceases to exist. All sins cease to exist. The only sin that could ever exist is daring to tell anyone they’re wrong, or daring to stop somebody from doing wrong. This can lead to either moral relativism or pacifism, depending on how you look at it, but in the end, the contemporary Jesus becomes a God you never have to say you’re sorry to.

In truth, the contemporary understanding of love is not love. It’s just sentimentality. The real Jesus (you know, the one in the Bible) had no problem calling a sin or sin, or a hypocrite a hypocrite, and he had no problem telling people it’s okay to defend themselves. That’s because the Biblical definition of love, Jesus love, is defined by sacrifice.

When Jesus called sin a sin, he was making a sacrifice, because he was losing popularity. When Jesus called out hypocrisy, he was making a sacrifice, because he was losing allies and making enemies. You see real love means sometimes saying things that are unpopular and offensive. It’s a self-sacrificial kind of love because one doesn’t say these things to get popular or make allies. When one says these things, he does so for the benefit of the person he’s talking to, and/or the benefit of those who are listening in. It’s a call to repentance, for the sake of the other person’s soul, because that’s in their best interest. Jesus only gained popularity the first half of his 3-year ministry. The other half was spent losing popularity. He allowed this as a form of self-sacrificial love, for the benefit of everyone else. He called sin a sin, and he called out hypocrisy for what it was. In the end, this got him crucified, and again, he offered that up as self-sacrificial love for all humanity. Real love, Jesus love (you know, the kind of love Jesus displayed in the Bible), is self-sacrificial love. It’s not always polite and gentle. It’s not always sweet and syrupy. It’s not sentimentality. Real love means saying what is right, and doing what is right, for the other person’s benefit, even if it means sacrificing your own comfort, popularity and even safety. And yes, if you offend somebody who loves you, especially God, you do have to say you’re sorry.

So now we venture into the topic of gun-control. There’s a lot of talk about gun-control lately, because of recent mass shootings in various cities. So the question at hand is; would Jesus support gun control? I would like to turn that around and ask; did Jesus support it?

Yes, we do have an example from the real Jesus, not the contemporary Jesus, but the real Jesus from the Bible. This very topic did come up, albeit in a different way, but it did come up during the course of his earthly ministry…

He [Jesus] said to them [his Apostles], “When I sent you out without purse, and wallet, and shoes, did you lack anything?”

They said, “Nothing.”

Then he said to them, “But now, whoever has a purse, let him take it, and likewise a wallet. Whoever has none, let him sell his cloak, and buy a sword. For I tell you that this which is written must still be fulfilled in me: ‘He was counted with transgressors.’ For that which concerns me has an end.”

They said, “Lord, behold, here are two swords.”

He said to them, “That is enough.”

— Luke 22:35-38

What!? Jesus condoned the buying of weapons!? Yes, he did, and for Christians, this discourse ought to govern our attitude toward weapons. In the first century, the most common and effective weapon of the time was the short sword. It was easily concealable compared to others, good for swinging in close spaces, double edged and sharp. It was definitely the kind of weapon one would want to be holding in any kind of street fight, brawl, showdown, robbery or war. The Apostles had two of these. Jesus said “that is enough.”

Today, the modern equivalent of this weapon would be a medium caliber handgun – ranging from the nine millimeter to the thirty-eight special. If this discourse between Jesus and his Apostles happened today, it might have gone down like this…

Then he said to them, “But now, whoever has a purse, let him take it, and likewise a wallet. Whoever has none, let him sell his cloak, and buy a gun. For I tell you that this which is written must still be fulfilled in me: ‘He was counted with transgressors.’ For that which concerns me has an end.”

They said, “Lord, behold, here are two handguns.”

He said to them, “That is enough.”

This gives the Scriptures a totally different feel, doesn’t it? Jesus not only condoned the possession of weapons, but he actually commanded his Apostles to buy some. Then when they showed him that they already had two, he told them that was plenty. From this we learn that Jesus (the real Jesus, not the syrupy Jesus) was not only “okay” with people having weapons, but even expects it of his followers, to a certain limited degree. Again, I’m not asking “what would Jesus do?” but rather “what did Jesus do?” That’s a more important question, because from that we can discern what that means in our time. Is Jesus okay with guns? Well, he was okay with swords, and that’s sort of the same thing.

Jesus, however, explained the reason why he told his Apostles to buy a sword. Did you catch it? He said he was leaving this world, and after he was gone, things would be different. They would no longer have the same divine protection they once had while Jesus was with them. The would need more natural means to defend themselves now.

A weapon can only serve two purposes — offensive and defensive. The weapons he wanted them to have were for defensive purposes only. Two swords for twelve men is hardly enough to be used in any kind of offensive way. At best, they could be used by two Apostles as defensive weapons (defending the rest) against a few robbers or thugs, but that’s about it. Jesus was not a revolutionary. He certainly wasn’t the militaristic Messiah many had been expecting. One doesn’t foment a rebellion with just two swords. It should be obvious that wasn’t Jesus’ intention, not just from this passage alone, but from many others throughout the New Testament where Jesus talks about “turning the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39) and “my kingdom is not of this world, if it were my servants would fight” (John 18:36).

800px-The_capture_of_Christ_mg_1677We read on in the gospel narrative that St. Peter didn’t get it. When the Temple guards came to arrest Jesus, he took one of those very swords he had just showed to Jesus, and lunged toward the high priest’s servant who was probably the one leading the guard (Luke 22:50; John 18:10). The servant must have moved to the side at just the right time, dodging a chop to the head, causing Peter to miss his head entirely and only slice off his ear.

The scene plays out in the painting above, which is zoomed in on St. Peter swinging the sword. You can see the whole painting here. Jesus commanded Peter to stop, rebuked and scolded him for doing it, then he healed the servant’s ear.

Rebellion and revolution are not in the Christian equation. That’s not why Christians are allowed to carry weapons. The one and only reason is self defense, or defense of others against lawlessness (thugs, rapists, murderers, etc.). The Temple guards were following orders from their lawful superiors. Jesus was voluntarily submitting to the summons of those superiors. St. Peter had no right to act. He was not in danger from lawless thugs, neither was his Master. Jesus could have called down a whole army of angels to defend him if he wanted to, and he already demonstrated to these guards that he, himself, had the power to drive them off if he wanted to. After demonstrating this power, he commanded that they take him only and leave his Apostles alone (John 18:5-8). Fearful of Jesus, they did just that, even after St. Peter had assaulted one of them with a deadly weapon.

Jesus clearly allowed, and even commanded, his Apostles to have weapons, but not many. From this, we can deduce that he wanted his Apostles to have the means to defend themselves against bandits and thugs, but not enough to be a threat to any civil government. This concept is reinforced in the Catechism of the Catholic Church…

Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:

If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful…. Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one’s own life than of another’s.

Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for someone responsible for another’s life. Preserving the common good requires rendering the unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm. To this end, those holding legitimate authority have the right to repel by armed force aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their charge.

— CCC 2264-2265

As you can see, the Catechism sanctions the use of armed and lethal force (what kind is not specified) for self defense or the defense of others, but that’s about it. What’s the takeaway from this? The message is that Catholics can hold good-faith opinions on both sides of the gun-control debate. While it’s hard for Catholics to make the argument that anyone needs a large arsenal, there is nobody who can compel Catholics to surrender their side arms for use in personal defense. Catholics can own handguns, shotguns, riffles, crossbows, swords, knives, spears and clubs if they want to, and there is nothing in either the Bible or the Catechism that says they can’t. The sweet and syrupy, contemporary Jesus doesn’t apply here, because he doesn’t exist. He’s a figment of people’s imagination. The only Jesus that matters is the one we read about in the Bible, and he thought a couple swords were a pretty good thing to have around.

4 thoughts on “Would Jesus Support Gun Control?

  1. The commentary in the Ignatius Study Bible – hardly a leftist propagandist – however, points to Luke 22:38 as a rhetorical rebuke. In that light, it’s to be read scoldingly (e.g. “Enough already!”) or even ironically (e.g. “You think that’s enough?”).

    I’ve never seen in that anything other than Christ’s lament that his closest apostles have just completely missed the point of everything he just said about their radical dependence on God’s providence and protection.

    Very much the same way Peter misses the point of the transitory, ephemeral vision of the Transfiguration by trying to cement it in time by building booths to memorialize it hereafter.

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  2. Here are some quotes of Jesus that I have collected together. He is definitely not the sweet sugary Jesus of the “what would Jesus do” brigade.

    Does Jesus tread on people’s sensibilities?

    Matthew
    3:17 “’Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is close at hand.’”
    5:19 “19 Therefore, anyone who infringes even one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be considered the least in the kingdom of Heaven;”
    5:22 “22 But I say this to you, anyone who is angry with a brother will answer for it before the court; anyone who calls a brother “Fool” will answer for it before the Sanhedrin; and anyone who calls him “Traitor” will answer for it in hell fire.”
    5:25-26 “25 Come to terms with your opponent in good time while you are still on the way to the court with him, or he may hand you over to the judge and the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison.26 In truth I tell you, you will not get out till you have paid the last penny.”
    5:28 “28 But I say this to you, if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
    5:29 “29 If your right eye should be your downfall, tear it out and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of yourself than to have your whole body thrown into hell.”
    5:32 “32 But I say this to you, everyone who divorces his wife, except for the case of an illicit marriage, makes her an adulteress; and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
    5:44 “44 But I say this to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you;”
    6:2 “2 So when you give alms, do not have it trumpeted before you; this is what the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win human admiration. In truth I tell you, they have had their reward.”
    6:5 “5 ‘And when you pray, do not imitate the hypocrites: they love to say their prayers standing up in the synagogues and at the street corners for people to see them. In truth I tell you, they have had their reward.”
    6:7 “7 ‘In your prayers do not babble as the gentiles do, for they think that by using many words they will make themselves heard.”
    6:15 “15 but if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive your failings either.”
    6:19, 21 “19 ‘Do not store up treasures for yourselves on earth, where moth and woodworm destroy them and thieves can break in and steal.
    21 For wherever your treasure is, there will your heart be too.”
    6:22-23 “22 ‘The lamp of the body is the eye. It follows that if your eye is clear, your whole body will be filled with light.
    23 But if your eye is diseased, your whole body will be darkness. If then, the light inside you is darkened, what darkness that will be!”
    6:24 “24 ‘No one can be the slave of two masters: he will either hate the first and love the second, or be attached to the first and despise the second. You cannot be the slave both of God and of money.”
    7:13-14 “13 ‘Enter by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to destruction is wide and spacious, and many take it;
    14 but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
    7:21-23 “21 ‘It is not anyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” who will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven.
    22 When the day comes many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, work many miracles in your name?”
    23 Then I shall tell them to their faces: I have never known you; away from me, all evil doers!”
    8:21-22 “21 Another man, one of the disciples, said to him, ‘Lord, let me go and bury my father first.’
    22 But Jesus said, ‘Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their dead.’”
    8:25-26 “25 So they went to him and woke him saying, ‘Save us, Lord, we are lost!’
    26 And he said to them, ‘Why are you so frightened, you who have so little faith?’”
    9:3-4 “3 And now some scribes said to themselves, ‘This man is being blasphemous.’
    4 Knowing what was in their minds Jesus said, ‘Why do you have such wicked thoughts in your hearts?”
    10:34-36 “34 ‘Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth: it is not peace I have come to bring, but a sword.
    35 For I have come to set son against father, daughter against mother, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law;
    36 a person’s enemies will be the members of his own household.”
    10:38 m “38 Anyone who does not take his cross and follow in my footsteps is not worthy of me.”
    11:18-6, 18-19 “16 ‘What comparison can I find for this generation? …..
    18 ‘For John came, neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He is possessed.”
    19 The Son of man came, eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.’”
    11:23 “23 And as for you, Capernaum, did you want to be raised as high as heaven? You shall be flung down to hell. For if the miracles done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have been standing yet.”
    12:7-8 “7 And if you had understood the meaning of the words: Mercy is what pleases me, not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the blameless.
    8 For the Son of man is master of the Sabbath.’”
    12:28 “28 But if it is through the Spirit of God that I drive out devils, then be sure that the kingdom of God has caught you unawares.”
    12:30 “30 ‘Anyone who is not with me is against me, and anyone who does not gather in with me scatters.”
    12:32 “32 And anyone who says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but no one who speaks against the Holy Spirit will be forgiven either in this world or in the next.”
    12:34, 36-37 “34 You brood of vipers, …..
    36 So I tell you this, that for every unfounded word people utter they will answer on Judgement Day,
    37 since it is by your words you will be justified, and by your words condemned.’
    12:39 “39 He replied, ‘It is an evil and unfaithful generation that asks for a sign! The only sign it will be given is the sign of the prophet Jonah.”
    13:41-42 “41 The Son of man will send his angels and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of falling and all who do evil,

    42 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.”
    13:49-50 “49 This is how it will be at the end of time: the angels will appear and separate the wicked from the upright,
    50 to throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.”
    14:31 “31 Jesus put out his hand at once and held him. ‘You have so little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’”
    15:4-6 “4 For God said, “Honour your father and your mother” and “Anyone who curses his father or mother will be put to death.”
    5 But you say, “If anyone says to his father or mother: Anything I might have used to help you is dedicated to God,
    6 he is rid of his duty to father or mother.” In this way you have made God’s word ineffective by means of your tradition.”
    15:24-26 “24 He said in reply, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.’
    25 But the woman had come up and was bowing low before him. ‘Lord,’ she said, ‘help me.’
    26 He replied, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to little dogs.’”
    16:4 “4 It is an evil and unfaithful generation asking for a sign, and the only sign it will be given is the sign of Jonah.’ And he left them and went off.”
    16:8 “8 Jesus knew it, and he said, ‘You have so little faith,”
    16:23 “23 But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my path, because you are thinking not as God thinks but as human beings do.’”
    17:16-17 “16 I took him to your disciples and they were unable to cure him.’17 In reply, Jesus said, ‘Faithless and perverse generation! How much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me.’”
    18:6 “6 But anyone who is the downfall of one of these little ones who have faith in me would be better drowned in the depths of the sea with a great millstone round his neck.”
    18:32-35 “32 Then the master sent for the man and said to him, “You wicked servant, I cancelled all that debt of yours when you appealed to me.
    33 Were you not bound, then, to have pity on your fellow-servant just as I had pity on you?”
    34 And in his anger the master handed him over to the torturers till he should pay all his debt.
    35 And that is how my heavenly Father will deal with you unless you each forgive your brother from your heart.’”
    19:8 “8 He said to them, ‘It was because you were so hard-hearted, that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but it was not like this from the beginning.”
    18:9 “9 Now I say this to you: anyone who divorces his wife — I am not speaking of an illicit marriage — and marries another, is guilty of adultery.’”
    19:21-22 “21 Jesus said, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go and sell your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’”
    22 But when the young man heard these words he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.

    21:12-13 “ 12 Jesus then went into the Temple and drove out all those who were selling and buying there; he upset the tables of the money-changers and the seats of the dove-sellers.
    13 He said to them, ‘According to scripture, my house will be called a house of prayer; but you are turning it into a robbers’ den.’”
    21:43 “43 ‘I tell you, then, that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.’”
    22:18 “18 But Jesus was aware of their malice and replied, ‘You hypocrites! Why are you putting me to the test?”
    22:29 “29 Jesus answered them, ‘You are wrong, because you understand neither the scriptures nor the power of God.”
    23:13-32 “13 ‘Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!”
    23:31-33 “31 So! Your own evidence tells against you! You are the children of those who murdered the prophets!
    32 Very well then, finish off the work that your ancestors began.
    33 ‘You serpents, brood of vipers, how can you escape being condemned to hell?”
    26:9-10 “9 This could have been sold for a high price and the money given the poor.’
    10 But Jesus noticed this and said, ‘Why are you upsetting the woman? What she has done for me is indeed a good work!”
    26:24-25 “24 The Son of man is going to his fate, as the scriptures say he will, but alas for that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! Better for that man if he had never been born!’
    25 Judas, who was to betray him, asked in his turn, ‘Not me, Rabbi, surely?’ Jesus answered, ‘It is you who say it.’”
    26:34 “34 Jesus answered him, ‘In truth I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will have disowned me three times.’”

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  3. Christ did many things that some people don’t understand. They attempt to understand such things from their own limited perspective and knowledge. This article accomplishes a great deal in raising important issues, but also seems to fall short of spirit.

    Chris Buckley’s comment on August 6, on this article is particularly troubling, especially when he said, “…radical dependence on God’s providence and protection.”

    “Radical dependence?” When King Asa depended on the Lord, he prevailed against overwhelming odds. Later, when he depended on a neighboring king, he failed. I’d say that his radical dismissal of God’s providence and protection were what destroyed him.

    So many have watered down Christianity by thinking in terms of physical law. If you see the difference between what Christ did to achieve his mission and what he taught in order for us to follow him, we begin to see that the two were compatible, but different. By choosing Judas as a disciple was Christ condoning betrayal? Of course not! He needed a betrayer to fulfill his mission.

    By telling his disciples to get a sword, was he teaching us to do the same? Of course not! He needed a disciple to strengthen the resolve of the High Priests’ men so that his mission would be done. He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword. When you are of the spirit, you will have knowledge that is impossible as a mortal, Homo sapiens man. Such knowledge can protect you. When we fear to protect our mortal selves, then we end up losing our True Selves — the immortal child of God within.

    (References: The Holy Bible, Enemies of Christ, The Science of Miracles, Proof of God)

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