Proper 8, Year C, Galatians 5:1, 13-25, Luke 9:51-62:
Where are we going, and what are we doing? This may be the question the disciples are asking. But Luke knows where they are going. They are going to Jerusalem. Jesus is on his way to complete what he has started. In today’s story the disciples go ahead of Jesus to prepare the way. And they find themselves in a Samaritan village. You may remember that there is animosity between the Samaritans and the traditional Jewish people. This tension goes back since the days after the Babylonian Exile. By this point in time, the Samaritans and Jewish people are both ethnically and religiously different. But Jesus, none the less, wants the disciples to bring the Good News to all the people, including the Samaritans. The disciples go out on a wing and a prayer, so to speak.
This noble act is one of pure faith. I believe the disciples are acting in love and generosity in their efforts to reach out to people that are different than they are. They are acting in loyalty to Christ. They are not doing this out of self-grandeur but because they want to share what they have. They want to bear witness to the living Christ. But all this expressed goodness isn’t long lasting. For when they are rejected the disciple’s human nature is exposed. They want to call upon God and have fire sent from heaven to incinerate the village. This anger or hatred is no longer the love that is proclaimed in the Gospel. This emotion is a primal feeling that comes from deep within one’s self. Jesus rebukes them.
Anger, violence, or destruction is not the way of Christ. As it says earlier in this chapter of Luke,
“[Jesus] sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, ‘Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.’” (Luke 9:2-5)
The Disciples should have just left town possibly with sadness in their hearts, but instead they turn to that all-too-human instinct within us which wants to cause others harm. In rebuking the Disciples Christ is the mediator for these people. Through Christ’s love and compassion the people are not only spared, but we learn that this is not the way Christ works.
Once again we have witnessed a mass shooting. Once again the media wants to place the blame on religion, mental stability, gun laws or lack thereof. Some religious people want to put the blame directly on the victims because of their lifestyle. Others want to put the blame on our society as a sign of our lack of faith. Any claims linking these shootings to God’s wrath is untenable with the Gospel message. I cannot say owning and using a gun is anti-Christian. But I can say that we have a gun problem in the United States. And what is anti-Christian is ignoring the problem. Putting up road blocks to discuss or research solutions clearly is not of Christ. Many people would say that this is a political issue, not a religious one. But I’d reply if that is their view than we need to look at our religion a bit deeper. We need to discuss the theology of killing.
Our faith says life is sacred. We are to uphold life at almost all cost. And the fact is, too many people get killed each day by guns. According to the American Medical Association, over 6,000 deaths this year alone are from gun violence.(1) The AMA says this is an “Epidemic;” “A public health crisis.” This epidemic is not even mass shootings. Mass shootings make up a very, very small percentage of gun deaths. You may remember Ronald Regan’s body guard Jim Brady. According to the Brady site, 89 people die each day from gun violence with over 200 others injured.(2) This is like two Orlando shooting each day just spread out across the country. Domestic violence, suicide, or even accidental shootings, each of these account for more deaths than mass shootings. Yet it is the mass shootings that horrify us. On the day before Orlando, a headline in Roswell New Mexico reads, “Police still unsure why New Mexico father gunned down wife, [and] four kids.”(3) The victims of domestic or accidental shootings are just as innocent as the ones at the night clubs or in the schools.
If it is true that people kill people not guns; then we need to be doing more to prevent certain people from obtaining guns. All three of our Bishops, in the Diocese of Texas, are part of a group, of over sixty Episcopal Bishops, called the Bishops United Against Gun Violence. They, “have come together to explore means of reducing the appalling levels of gun violence in our society, and to advocate for policies and legislation that save lives.”(4) When thousands of innocent people get killed each year and our country does not think it is a problem worth studying, than I say it is both a religious and political issue.
I would be the first to agree that this is a complex issue, with no single solution or one size fits all answer. We are dealing with our personal freedoms and sense of security. Of the many problems, one is that we have a minimal amount of good data on this subject. Why is that? Because in 1996 the Dickey Amendment was past; which for all practical purposes prevented the Government from funding research on gun violence. Universities and research centers which use government funds halted this research to prevent the loss of funding for other programs. The leading cause of this amendment was a report produced by the CDC three years prior which said that homes with firearms were at an increased risk for homicide in the home.(5) I’m not sure why this seemingly obvious conclusion was so terrifying to certain people, but apparently it was and still is. Likewise, I do not know why the Disciples wanted to cause an act of religious terrorism on this Samaritan town. Why they thought killing these people was better than letting them live. Maybe it is that sense of power we get when we have the upper hand. Whether this power is asking God to act in vengeance or a Gun in hand, we seem to want to use this power to leverage our position.
No one should be forced to listen to the truth. No one can be forced into a loving relationship. A relationship that requires force is abusive. Forceful power is a temptation that the church has faced throughout its history; the Spanish inquisition, hiding sex abuse, promising forgiveness of sins for money, known as indulgences, or the modern version of this in which televangelists will promise personal prosperity in exchange for your donations.
Our Corinthians passage makes clear that we have certain freedoms in Christ that we didn’t under Torah. But this freedom comes at a price. The price is in self-reflection and helping others be accountable. We have to recognize within ourselves and each other, whether what we are doing is for the flesh or for God. If what we are doing comes out of anger or hatred then it is not coming from love. If it is not coming from love and compassion, then it is not coming from Christ. Paul gives us a long list of issues such as; idolatry and fornication. Any one of these maladies on its surface could seem to be good. Idolatry on its surface is worship. Fornication on its surface is intimacy. The issue doesn’t come from what the person is seeking but how they are seeking it. It is where these sins stem from that is the problem. Do they stem from the self or the ego, the inner part of us that is sometimes so hard to control. Or do they stem from Christ like qualities. Intimately loving your spouse, worshiping God with all of your heart; these are wonderful things when they come from the love and compassion of others, but when they come from our personal desires then they get twisted in unhealthy ways. This twisted-ness is rampant in our culture, it colors what we see. As Bishop Andy Doyle said in a recent blog, “We live in a nation that pretends civility and Christian values while rejecting the core and central tenets of Christian faith: love God and love neighbor and help create a peaceable kingdom.”(6)
Domestic violence, suicide, mass shootings; Christ is not in these acts. He is with those who die, He is with those who grieve and morn and He is with those who pray. Where are we going, and what are we doing?