In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks some “hard words” about peace, conflict, and division.
They are words that we don’t expect from one who is known as “The Prince of Peace.”
“Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth?”—Jesus asks.
“Not peace, I tell you, but division!
“I have come to kindle a fire on the earth.
“From now on, the members of a household will be divided:
“Father against son, and son against father;
“Mother against daughter, and daughter against mother.”
Wouldn’t you like to have been a “fly on the wall”—(or at least on a nearby palm tree)—when Jesus spoke those words?
The crowd’s reaction must have been confusion and consternation.
Their response would have been anything but peaceful!
People—then and now—never respond well when Jesus contradicts our assumptions—and disappoints our expectations!
“Peace” is a key concept in the Bible.
The word is used over 300 times in Holy Scripture—and referred to indirectly hundreds of other times.
In the Old Testament, “peace” is a translation of the Hebrew word “shalom.”
“Shalom” is more than the mere cessation of hostilities.
It implies harmony, tranquility, and well-being.
“Shalom” is both internal and external—a condition of peace within a person—as well as peace between persons.
God himself is referred to in the Scriptures as “The God of Shalom”—“The God of Peace.”
“Shalom” is what the New Testament calls “the peace that passes all understanding.”
It is the same “peace on earth, good will towards men”—that the Angels proclaimed at Christ’s birth.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus taught this “Shalom”—and showed us by his own example how to live it.
“Blessed are the peacemakers,” he said in the Sermon on the Mount, “for they shall be called Children of God.”
At the Last Supper, Jesus said to his disciples: “Shalom I leave with you—my own peace I give to you.”
And when he saw them again after the Resurrection, he repeated the word:
“Shalom”—“Peace be with you.”
Finally, just before his Ascension, Jesus sent the disciples out—to all nations and all peoples—“to proclaim the Good News of peace:”
“Shalom to those who are far-off, and Shalom to those who are near.”
The legacy of “Shalom” that Jesus gave us is still proclaimed today in the Baptismal Covenant—in which we promise to “strive for justice and peace among all people;”
And in the Holy Eucharist—during which we exchange “The Peace of the Lord.”
All this is to say that Christians are people who are committed to Peace.
Our Lord—and our Baptism—call us to be “Peace-makers”—Disciples who are actively involved in pursuing “Shalom.”
Doing this is not an easy task!
The world we live in is full of conflict and violence.
Not only nations and peoples—but races and families—are divided.
In a divided world, even religion has become a source of conflict—setting the members of one Faith against another.
Into this world, the Disciples of Christ are called to go—and be Peace-makers!
Here is an interesting and ironic fact that I discovered:
If you conduct an Internet search using the word “peace-maker”—most of the references that pop up have to do with weapons and warfare.
The implication is that peace-making requires the use of weapons of war!
This approach is not only self-contradictory—it is fraught with danger.
History and experience show that resorting to warfare does not resolve conflict—nor do weapons achieve lasting Peace.
Peace is not something that can be imposed by force—nor can it be kept by threat of violence.
What we don’t seem to understand is that violence only begets more violence!
One of the key issues in our current presidential election is how to defeat terrorism—both at home and abroad—and how to bring Peace to the Middle East.
Equally important is the interpretation of the Second Amendment to the Constitution—and the difficult question of preventing “gun violence.”
Perhaps both candidates—and the electorate as well—need to re-visit the words of Jesus—and re-acquaint themselves with the biblical teachings about “Shalom.”
Jesus once used the phrase “Physician, heal thyself!”
It means that if there is to be any healing—any peace-making—it must begin at home:
Right here--within ourselves and among ourselves:
In our own communities—our own churches—our own families—our own lives.
Peace begins with “Shalom”—“the Peace of God”—and that is available only by God’s Grace.
As Saint Paul says: “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Only when “the Peace of God, which passes all understanding” is firmly established within our hearts and minds--only then will we have the ability to become “Peace-makers” in the world.
There are also a few basic principles that Peace-makers need to remember.
We all know that Jesus said we must be prepared to “turn the other cheek.”
We all know we must not “return evil for evil”—but “love our enemies”—and even “pray for them.”
We should also remember that—at the moment of his arrest—Jesus observed that “those who live by the sword will perish by the sword.”
Ultimately--guns and fighting will not bring Peace—only more destruction.
At the very least—we need to understand that being a “Peace-maker” means rejecting the tactics of cruelty, intimidation, and terror.
It has taken humanity a long time to learn this lesson--and some of us have not learned it yet.
Experience should have taught us that we can never bring Peace by torturing, humiliating, or cutting off the heads of our enemies.
And we ought to have the sense to know that it is impossible to do such things in the Name of God.
If we wish to be “Peace-makers”—we need to begin with the recognition that God is the source of all Peace.
If there is to be any real Peace—it must be rooted in the God of Peace.
If we know God—and walk in his ways—then “the Peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Only those who know “Shalom” have the ability to make “Shalom.”
Only those who know God—and walk in his ways—can create “Peace on Earth, Good Will towards all!”
Now let us pray.
Almighty and Eternal God,
Kindle, we pray, in our hearts—and in every heart—the true love of Peace.
Guide with your Wisdom those who take counsel for the nations of the Earth.
Grant that—in tranquility and harmony—your Dominion shall increase.
Let the Earth is filled with the knowledge of your Love—as the waters cover the sea!
Through Jesus Christ Our Lord,
The Rev. Charles M. Davis, Jr. +