As the news fills yet again with the sound of gunshots at a school, or a concert, or on the streets of our cities, our hearts break. I pray they do not break closed, but open. May a fire of rage and hope burn in us, which insists that the lives of our children matter and which demands immediate action and legal reform.
I say this because, as pastor, I believe this is what Jesus would say.
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus challenges the interpretation and practice of another law: the Sabbath (2:23-3:6). As a Jewish man, Jesus observed and valued the Sabbath. It was a day when former slaves celebrated the freedom to have no master but God — no responsibility but the joy of life. It was a day when the people of God had time enough to worship, be in community and love each other. The Sabbath was part of a tapestry of law designed to protect and serve the community and its prioritization of God and justice.
Our own laws today are not so different. The founders of our nation celebrated their hard-won freedom with a Constitution designed to protect and serve the people of their fledgling nation. They created laws intended to further life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. At the time, their definition of the people protected by those laws was woefully narrow. The dream of this nation is to see the day when “We the people” includes, serves and protects all the people.
That dream, and these laws, are what make our nation possible.
But something's gone wrong.
Certain laws seem to have become more important than the people they were supposed to protect and serve.
The Gospel of Mark tells the story of Jesus entering the synagogue to worship on the Sabbath. In the shadows, Jesus spots a man doubled over in pain, grasping his withered hand. Jesus invites him into the center of the room and asks the people to look at this man who needs help. He asks them to care enough to say or do something, even if it means bending the law and “working” on the Sabbath. And all he gets is silence. The people turn their heads and look away.
Jesus is furious. He looks at these people, these law-abiding citizens, whose hearts have hardened with indifference, and he is grieved.
Today, Christ invites us to look again. To see the youth of our nation who carry the withered names and faces of friends gunned down. To see the mother, the father, gripping the casket of their child. To hear their plea: “Not one more.”
And imagine his rage when we look away, when we are more outraged by a school walkout than by a school death.
Recently, students from the Parkland, Florida, high school where 17 people were shot and killed earlier this year staged a “die-in” protest at a Publix grocery. Shoppers stepped over the bodies of these teenagers to reach milk and fruit, while counter-protesters shouted derision at children who simply do not want to die.
Two-thousand years ago, Jesus staged a similarly symbolic challenge to the laws of his time, not out of disrespect for those laws, but out of the conviction that they were meant for something better: meant to protect and serve.
The youth of our nation care about a law that was created to guard them against tyranny and violence, to protect and promote their welfare. They’re not asking that all guns be taken away. They’re just asking that we remember why the Constitution was created in the first place: to protect us. They’re just asking that it be allowed to protect us still, because clearly right now it’s not.
In Mark’s story, Jesus invites the man to put his hand forward. And as he stretches his trembling hand into that silent space, all of humanity puts its hand forward. He is healed, and with him, we are healed.
In that moment, Jesus restores more than a hand. He restores the original purpose of the law, of Sabbath: a day for compassion, for people, for God.
Christ can do the same for us today. He can help us see the people who are not being protected and served by the law. He can soften our hearts and help us respect the law by respecting the people for whom the law was made.
Together, we can find a way to protect both our freedom and our lives.