Acts 15:1-2, 22-29
Revelation ;10-14, 22-23
In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus says to His disciples after promising to them the coming of the Holy Spirit: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid." In these times, it might be helpful to reflect upon the kind of peace Jesus gives.
What is the difference between how the world gives peace, and how Jesus gives peace? How does the world give peace? One of the ways the world "achieves" peace is by conquest. In almost any conflict throughout history, there has been a winner and a loser, and at some time the conflict is over, and this is considered peace. But all too often history shows us that oppression continues, even though those who oppress and those who are oppressed may change, and there is no real peace.
Another way the world "achieves" peace is by denial of the conflict. There may be upheavals in our lives, times of pain and sorrow, and we get sucked into trying to numb the pain or escape reality. This is not real peace, either.
The world also "achieves" peace by silent assent. It has been said, and I’m paraphrasing here, that evil triumphs when good people fail to speak up. We can sometimes turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to what is happening, and as long as there is no fuss, there is peace. Of course, the continuation of evil is not true peace.
How does Jesus give peace? In His love for us, Jesus gives us peace. Jesus’ love gives us peace because it leads us to put our trust in God. By His Sacrifice on the Cross, and His Resurrection from the dead, Jesus has freed us from the power of sin, and the fear of death! We know God is faithful! We know God is present, even when we can’t feel it. So when we may feel crucified at some time or another, we can look to resurrection! When the storms may be raging in our lives, we know Jesus can be our shelter! In the midst of upheaval, we can find real peace in Jesus.
As we grow closer to Jesus, and experience the peace that comes from knowing His love, we are called to share that love with others. We are called to make peace. There have been many in history, including Pope Paul VI and Martin Luther King, Jr., who have reminded us that to achieve real peace, we must work for justice. We are to work towards a world where all have the necessities of life, and all have the opportunity to fulfill their God-given potential.
That may seem too abstract and high-minded to be realistic. Perhaps one way we can begin to make peace is to reach across the barriers and divisions that people put between themselves. Maybe now is the time to reconcile with that former friend or loved one. Maybe now is the time to listen to those who are different. In our first reading from Acts, the apostles and the elders in Jerusalem needed to listen to those disciples who worked with the Gentiles. The needed to hear how God was working among those who were different. And so, in the power of the Holy Spirit, they discerned that the Gentiles did not need to become Jews first in order to be Christian. There was no absence of a conflict (you can read more fully from Acts about this, not to mention Paul’s version of things in Galatians!), but rather, an effort towards justice for all disciples. In other words, there was work towards real peace in the community.
As we have found real peace in Jesus, we are called to be peacemakers. The One to whom so much violence was done, did not return violence with more violence. Instead, He sacrificed Himself, and won the victory for us, and gave us peace!
May God continue to bless us all. May we find peace in Jesus Christ, and may we make peace in His name.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P. is pastor of St. Mary’s Parish, Fairfield, Alabama.