At every Mass we recall that one of the great promises of Jesus is the gift of peace. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.” We then pass the peace as a sign that we as Christians are people of peace. That’s the theory. However, as we heard in the first reading from the Book of Acts, from the very beginning of the Church, living out that peace has not been easy. According to the text, there was disagreement about how to live the Christian life which provoked “no little dissension and debate….” which is the polite way for the Bible to say they were fighting like cats and dogs. The Church leaders acknowledged that some people in the Church “have disturbed your peace of mind.” On the one hand we are promised peace by Jesus, on the other hand we as human beings, even church people, all too easily slip into conflict and lose the sense of peace. How are we to understand the gift of peace that Jesus promises? Which leads to an even more basic question: what exactly does it mean to be people of peace?
The dictionary defines peace as the absence of war, which makes sense, with a secondary meaning of freedom from disturbance and a state of tranquility. While those might be good things to shoot for I wonder if they are what Jesus had in mind when he says “my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.” A state of tranquility might be peaceful but it could also be dead. A cemetery is tranquil but that is not the kind of peace Jesus is talking about. When you think of it, Jesus’ ministry was not tranquil at all. He was tossed out of the synagogue in Nazareth as he began his ministry. He confronted the scribes and Pharisees over their interpretation of living the law. He defended the woman caught in adultery from her accusers. He defied Pilate and Herod when he was on trial. Not a whole bunch of tranquility in any of that! The peace that Jesus possessed did not preclude conflict — so we can conclude the peace that Jesus gives is something beyond simply the absence of war or the state of tranquility. In fact, the peace of the world depends on many factors outside of our selves going swimmingly to create a tranquil state. Jesus peace, on the other hand, is something we can possess no matter what kind of buzzing, booming confusion is clattering around us. A closer look at the Scripture readings might give us some insight into Jesus peace.
First, we have Jesus peace because as disciples God loves us and dwells with us. “The Father and I will come to them and make our dwelling with them.” Because God dwells with us we’ve got the ace up our sleeve, the tiger in the tank, the key to the city, the army at our back, fiber-optic wi-fi and new and improved cereal with the extra vitamins and minerals. Because God dwells with us we are given the blessed assurance that there isn’t anything that we can’t handle. So often we are full of fear because of things that are out there – gun violence in Chicago and racist murders in Buffalo and $5 gasoline and global warming and…. They are scary. But God dwells with us so no matter what, we can work for change and still go to our peaceful place knowing that all will be well, all manner of things will be well.
We have Jesus peace once we understand that everyone whom we encounter is a child of God. Look at the way people were treated in the story from the Acts of the Apostles. There was disagreement, argument, debate, questioning. But people listened to each other, respected each other, compromised with each other, took counsel with each other. Because they did so they could disagree without being disagreeable. They could be at peace with one another when disagreeing because they treated everyone as worthy of the time and effort. Notice that what they DIDN’T do was ignore the problems. All too often in life we are tempted to preserve the peace at all cost. We don’t confront the addiction, we pretend that silent treatment doesn’t hurt the relationship, we let resentments build up over time, we let problems play out and hope they go away. We don’t like dealing with issues we fear will rupture peace so we sail down the river of denial. The example of the early Church proves just the opposite. The willingness to show that you love someone enough to call them to be the person that God made them to be is the only way to a genuine peace. It seems counter-intuitive but the Bible suggests that confrontation with honesty and vulnerability serves as the building block of peace.
The reading from the Book of Revelation reminds us that we have Jesus peace when we realize that God has a plan and that the plan is working in ways beyond our ken. The angel showed me the holy City coming down out of heaven from God. Those of us of a certain age might remember an old poem that was put to music in the 70s called “Desiderata” that had this refrain: “Whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.” We have peace when we trust the plan of God. Adam and Eve didn’t work out so God made a new plan. Noah’s time was a bust so a new plan was called for. Abraham was at the heart of the new plan of God and King David took the plan of God in a new direction. Finally with the coming of Jesus God as God became part of the plan to inaugurate the fulfillment of humanity. What history shows us: no matter what is going down, God can handle it. No matter how bleak things can seem at times God can make a way out of no way. That is our blessed assurance. That is the peace Jesus gives us. No doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.