“’Peace’ is my farewell to you, my peace is my gift to you….” We find these words that begin today’s gospel to be powerfully consoling and immensely reassuring not only because they speak to one of the deepest desires of our hearts, but also because we know that if we could only abide in peace, all would be well. Is there a better parting gift that Jesus could bestow on us? And yet, when Jesus says that the peace he offers is not “as the world gives peace,” but his peace, we know the path to peace will be different than we expect.
Nothing illustrates this more dramatically than today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. Paul is stoned, dragged out of town, and left for dead, all of which would lead us to suspect that he could hardly be at peace. But that is not the case at all. The hardship and suffering Paul has undergone—and the certainty that more awaits him—do not deter or defeat him, much less diminish his zeal for proclaiming the gospel; if anything, Paul seems energized and emboldened. What’s striking in this snapshot of Paul and Barnabas’ missionary journeys is that they are always on the move. Today we find them first in Antioch, then Derbe, then Lystra and Iconium, then back to Antioch, and then to Pisidia, Pamphylia, Perga, Attalia, and back again to Antioch. Far from withdrawing in fear on account of all he has suffered, Paul is absolutely courageous, joyful, and, strangely enough, totally at peace.
Perhaps that is because for Christians, peace is not the absence of suffering and hardship, but the abiding presence of God. When Paul and Barnabas arrive in Antioch, they share with that Christian community “all that God had helped them accomplish,” which explains that no matter what he might suffer, Paul could abide in peace because God was with him every step of the way. It is no different for us. Like Paul, suffering and hardship will visit us, but they should never rob us of peace because God, who is life and love, is with us every step of the way.
Paul J. Wadell is Professor Emeritus of Theology & Religious Studies at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, and a member of the Passionist Family.