John 14: 23-29
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid
It happens quite often, that dying people who have found peace, comfort those gathered around them and help them deal with their anxiety and grief. Jesus found himself in the same situation at the Last Supper. This is where our Gospel reading takes place. Jesus knew his death was near and his disciples have stopped denying it. They were in the early stages of grief. Jesus comforts the disciples who must go on living without him: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid”
And I notice my own reaction to the word peace. I can feel my body sigh with relief, and it is as if a weight has been lifted off me. I wonder why? What kind of peace is Jesus giving? I go to a memory where I have felt Jesus’ peace in a very strong, embodied way. I have struggled with rheumatoid arthritis for many years. From time to time the medication that slows the progress of the disease fails entirely. My pain levels kept increasing from months to months and medical science could offer no solution. I tried alternative medicines and I prayed. Nothing seemed to help. Eventually I got to a place where I had to hand it over to Jesus. I knew I had reached the end of my resources. And I prayed leaving it totally in God’s hands without any expectation of relief. I surrendered completely and handed myself over totally. Then I experienced a tremendous peace which flooded my entire body. A couple of days later I was offered an experimental drug which reduced my symptoms substantially.
A few questions arise in my mind when I hear Jesus say: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives”.
Is there a difference between ‘peace’ and ‘my peace’? Is Jesus making a distinction between how the world gives and how he gives? Or, is he making the distinction between the peace that the world gives and the peace that he gives? If the ‘peace’ that the world gives is the ‘peace through victory through violence’ that the Pax Romana offered, the question might be whether the peace that Jesus gives looks any different or is accomplished differently.
If we think first about the peace that the world offers, I would consider this peace on a number of different levels. First there is the idea of political or national peace. Second is the idea of peace in my personal relationships with family and friends. And third is the concept of inner peace.
When you ask a lot of people what they would hope for, they want more than absence of conflict or inner strife. They put peace high on the list. They reply with I would like: Peace and Tranquillity, Inner Peace, World Peace, just a bit of Peace and Quiet. And at funerals we say Rest in Peace.
The Pax Romana or Roman peace is one example of political peace established by force and violence. Rome invaded territories and ruled them through the use of force and fear. There are winners and losers. The Romans are the winners and the territories have to make the best of it. The losers concede too much in order to survive, but the bitterness remains to erupt another day. This is an unstable, fragile peace and the same holds true when peace is enforced through violence in relationships.
We are still living in a world where there is always conflict erupting somewhere in the world. Peace is maintained through the use of ‘might is right’ approach to political power. It is unstable, often unsustainable and often very expensive.
What can we say about the peace that the world offers considering personal relationships with family and friends? Do we have peace in our personal relationships and communities? There is trouble and conflict in families, friendships and work relationships. We do not have perfect relationships.
And what about inner peace? Spiritually and personally the world expects us to find inner peace, to have peace with ourselves. It is difficult because we are living with the constant pressure to conform to society’s expectations. We worry about our weight, physical appearance, our make-up, our level of fitness, the clothes we wear, the house we live in, whether we have the latest phone or other appliances, whether we have too many or too few friends, our career, social life, holiday plans, whether we fit in or stand out. We try to conform to unrealistic standards set by stars and other celebrities. Often inner peace eludes us, and we suffer from anxiety and depression.
Jesus offers us more than the absence of conflict or inner strife. When someone speaks of feeling at peace, they are talking about a sense of wholeness, even rightness, of and in one’s very being. It’s a sense of harmony with the people and the world around us. Peace connotes a sense of contentment, but even more fulfillment, a sense that in this moment one is basking in God’s pleasure.
There are two parts to this gift of peace offered by Jesus:
Part One: Shalom/Peace
Shalom is a Hebrew word which we translate as peace. It is the complete well-being, the health of individual, family, society and nation, which God wants for his people. It is the end of war and injustice, the end of hatred and bondage and grinding poverty. Its perfection will come on the victory-day when God will bring in the new, golden age: the day of the Lord’s new world order. Humanity will be one; one united family. Shalom is an affirmation of faith and hope in the face of all negative and destructive forces.
Jews have used Shalom as a greeting in their everyday life as well as in extraordinary circumstances. They have greeted each other with Shalom in the morning when rising and in the evening when going to bed. They call out Shalom, when someone is dragged away as a political refugee and welcome the person back with Shalom when they return home.
Jesus the Jew on the night of his betrayal, did a very Jewish thing and offered Shalom to his friends. The promise, the hope, when all seemed now hopeless.
Part Two: JESUS: “MY PEACE”
Jesus calls this “my peace”, the peace at the core of his unique being, even when the night seemed intolerably dark. It is based on his total trust and connection with God. What makes Jesus different from many of us is that he has found the way to “let God In”. He has found the place where there is little or no separation between time and eternity, the particular and the infinite, his own being; the sad and happy soul who is God’s beloved Child and God.
Deep down, the essence of Christ’s being was rooted in the Spirit of that wonderful God he called Abba/Dad. He totally believed no matter what happened to him, all would be well. God was faithful and could be utterly trusted to bring good out of evil, joy out of suffering, life out of death.
His peace was a foundational serenity of spirit. He wanted to share this peace with his disciples so that they could deal with the many difficulties they were to face.
Jesus’ peace does not offer superficial comfort or promise that once you’ve become a Christian you will never face any difficulties. Jesus still had to go through the humiliation and agony of Golgotha. There was no artificial pain relief. He sweated drops of blood in the garden of Gethsemane when he asked: “Abba, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” He went through excruciating agony when he cried on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” Yet his peace was deeper than all this. His roots were in the love of God, and at the end the forsaken cry is swallowed up in the deeper peace: “Abba, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
The two parts the Jewish Shalom and Christ’s inner core of serenity must be held together. His peace is not just a private matter between one’s soul and God. Nor is it just a social and political programme for justice and the welfare of all people. It is always both.
This deep sense of security that our souls experience as the peace of Christ gives us the courage and the liberty to work for the welfare of all people. Because we are grounded in Christ, we can take risks, which sometimes lead to success and sometimes to failure. And even if you do fear that we totally failed, we might discover that we have gained all that will ever matter on earth and heaven.
Shalom. Christ’s shalom. His gift to those who trust him.
I would like to conclude with the words of Saint Teresa of Avila:
Shalom Let nothing disturb you,
nothing frighten you,
all things are temporary,
except God who remains.
Know him and know all things,
trust him and want nothing,
He is sufficient
Written by Dorothea Wojnar
Dorothea Wojnar is an elder, worship leader and preacher at TUC. She has a deep interest in meditative and contemplative worship. In addition to her roles at TUC, Dorothea is a member of presbytery and a member of its Pastoral Relations Committee.More from Dorothea Wojnar