It’s amazing what you can find in the Bible when you actually read it. In the third chapter of Joel, we find these words: “Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears.”
But then, about a century later, we read these words from the prophet Isaiah as he describes his hope for the coming Messiah. “He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples, they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
Of course, this is what makes Scripture so hard – sometimes it says more than one thing. And we could spend time debating context and historical circumstances.
We could also visit Ecclesiastes and read, “There is a time for war, and a time for peace.”
But what both prophets understand is the connection between the development of weapons and the needs of the needy. When we spend a lot of money on weapons, there is not as much money for the things that grow food.
Jim Wallis, founder of the Sojourner’s community in Washington, D.C., has been trying to drive this point home with Congress lately. He has organized a campaign around the question “What would Jesus cut?”
The current conservative resurgence of anti-government spending is focused, as it always is, on monies that are intended for the poorest and most vulnerable of our society.
Current budget cuts proposed by political conservatives in the House and Senate would reduce or deny benefits to the elderly, children and people with disabilities.
But guess what is not cut? You are right; there are no proposals for cutting military spending.
Now don’t get me wrong; I want us to be safe. National security is a legitimate concern.
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But let’s also be honest enough to admit that there is way more waste in military spending and outdated weapons systems than there is in food programs for the poor.
Anybody who thinks that welfare moms are getting more tax dollars than defense contractors is living very near to Alice’s Wonderland.
The question posed by Wallis is legitimate: What would Jesus cut? If we are a Christian nation, then wanting what Jesus wanted is a valid concern.
Would Jesus be more interested in the latest laser-guided, unmanned drone weapon system or bread for the hungry children of our neighborhoods?
Of course, the question only matters if Jesus matters. If Jesus is not a real factor in our considerations, then the whole discussion is moot. We need only concern ourselves with what is best for our own security and prosperity.
We don’t need to worry ourselves with loftier questions of ethics, human rights and the common good. We can simply focus on what is good for us.
But if Jesus is part of the equation, then we need to ask what Jesus would cut. Jesus, who taught us to turn the other cheek, go the second mile and not resist evil with evil, also taught us to care for the “least of these” in our midst.
Jesus, who forgave those who crucified him, also touched the lepers, embraced the despised of his day and found time for children – something his followers found a waste of time.
What would Jesus cut from the federal budget? It’s a question worth pondering.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.