While he was saying this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, "Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!" But he said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!" (Luke 11:27-28)
A tall, powerfully built basketball player spoke on a radio talk show shortly after his team had captured the championship. The interviewer said, "You are all such talented players. You each have incredible ability. Don't you sometimes want to do your own thing? Isn't it hard for you to do it the coach's way?"
"Oh, no," the player responded, "you see, his way is our way."
The mass killing perpetrated by Stephen Paddock in Las Vegas has dominated this week’s news cycle. To establish the context for that incident, in 2007, the US had 90 firearms per 100 persons, the highest firearm per capita ratio of any nation in the world, including heavily armed countries such as Yemen and Iraq.
I was raised in Maine. As a boy, I enjoyed target and skeet shooting. I have had parishioners who depended upon hunting to feed their families, a commentary on the importance of paying employees a living wage. I served twenty-four years as a Navy chaplain ministering to sailors and Marines. Yet, I remain deeply troubled when I juxtapose the image of a gun toting citizen with that of the crucified Jesus. Events such as the killings in Las Vegas compound my discomfort with guns.
Anglican primates meeting in Canterbury this past week condemned the violence and issued a call for prayer for the casualties, their families, and an end to mass killings.
Prayer is good. Prayer is necessary. But prayer is insufficient. Having heard Jesus’ call to love our neighbor, we need to obey his exhortation. By obeying, his way becomes our way and we receive God’s blessing.
In what additional ways might we respond?
First, we helpfully insist that the bereaved, the wounded, first responders, and others effected by the shooting receive appropriate care and support. Their pain should never justify media or personal voyeurism.
Second, we might act to diminish the probability of similar incidents in the future. As a priest too well-acquainted with human sinfulness and as a counterterrorism scholar, I recognize the impossibility of preventing all incidents, particularly when the perpetrator is a lone wolf like Stephen Paddock. However, we can take steps to reduce the likelihood of such attacks. Constructive, widely supported steps include enacting and enforcing laws against bump stocks and other devices that convert semi-automatic weapons to automatic as well as mandating background checks to disqualify the mentally ill and persons convicted of violent crimes from purchasing guns.
The word blessed, makarios in the Greek text, means happy but even more denotes God extending God’s benefits to the one blessed. Jesus emphasized that the blessed are those who obey rather than simply pay lip service to God’s commands. May we exchange our personal and cultural fascination with guns for a fascination with Jesus; may we obey his call to be peacemakers who trust God rather than themselves for their security. Then we shall truly be blessed. Amen.