Joseph Torsella, a U.S. representative to the United Nations, on Thursday delivered a speech to the UN General Assembly commemorating the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s final speech to the UN. It was a routine statement, a speech honoring a speech.
But Torsella attributed something Jesus said to Kennedy.
He concluded his speech on Kennedy: “The very best way we can honor the extraordinary legacy of an extraordinary man is not to look back but to look ahead. To rededicate ourselves to his vision. To continue to answer his call in our time. To—as he said it better than any of us ever could—put our hands to the plow without looking back, and move the world to a just and lasting peace.”
Perhaps the first person to say that phrase said it better: Jesus, in Luke 9:62 (ESV), says, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Biblical phrases are common in the English language, and biblical literacy is so low broadly speaking, that it’s not surprising the U.S. Mission would attribute Jesus’ words to Kennedy.
But Kennedy, when he delivered the speech to the United Nations in 1963, attributed the phrase to the Bible.
“Let us complete what we have started,” Kennedy said. “For, ‘No man who puts his hand to the plow and looks back,’ as the Scriptures tell us, ‘No man who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’”