Each year during the holidays I listen to Handel’s Messiah, which contains the glorious soprano aria that includes the words, “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace.” I say “Amen.” In this time of increasing violence and injustice against people and the planet, we need to hear again the gospel (that is, good news) of peace. In coming days I will write about several contemporary peacemakers who have influenced me.
Clearly, there are many paths to peace, through various spiritual and philosophical traditions. As a follower of Christ and a minister of the gospel, I need to challenge the many distortions that have allowed my tradition, Christianity, to be used as a tool for Empire (violent by definition). I need to point in the direction of peace, healing, and wholeness that Jesus demonstrated and that God intends.
Today I’m going to write about why the message of peace is integral to the good news of God’s love, as demonstrated, taught, and proclaimed by Jesus. This message includes inner peace, peace in relationships, and peacemaking in the world.
First, Jesus offers us inner peace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)
I’ve learned that regardless of what is going on in the world around me, I must attend to the Spirit, find the inner (and outer) resources that enable me to be at peace with myself, and to be a non-anxious presence in the lives of people around me. Otherwise I am just adding to the confusion and chaos.
In times of conflict, whether inner conflict or conflict in relationships, we can trust that there are solutions, ask for guidance and support, then move toward solutions. We can follow the path forward even if all we can see is a glimmer of light. That’s all we need. As T.S. Eliot said so poetically in his poem, Choruses from the Rock, “Be ye satisfied that you have light enough to take your step and find your foothold.”
God is that light. Or, if it helps you can say, “The Light is God,” as Augustine did. The light of our understanding is one of the infinite manifestations of God.
Jesus also offers, invites, and calls his followers to work for peace in the world. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
For many years now, I have known that my own health and well-being and the health and well-being of my loved ones depends upon what kind of society and world we are living in, as represented by our cultural values and our political, economic, and social structures. That was true in Jesus’ day and it is true in ours.
Judea at the time of Jesus was plagued by the violence of occupation, economic oppression, extremes of wealth and poverty, militarism. Crucifixion by Rome was a common occurrence. The religious elite collaborated with the system that exploited the vulnerable, as many religious people do in our day. (For those of us who are white, middle class, and otherwise privileged, it’s a challenge not to—just going along with things as they are is complicity.)
Jesus’ mission was peace with justice. He articulated his mission to poor, oppressed, blind (including spiritually blind), and captive people at the outset of his ministry (Luke 4:18-19): “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Many biblical scholars believe that this “acceptable year” referred to ancient Israel’s “Year of Jubilee, when slaves were to be set free, debts cancelled, and land left fallow and returned to its original owners.” For the majority–the poor, oppressed, disenfranchised, and vulnerable people of Jesus’ day–this was good news indeed.
However, it was bad news to those relative few who were beneficiaries of the Roman occupation. They feared loss of privilege and social disorder; they persecuted resisters as threats to national security. For this reason, Jesus himself was put to death. (John 11:45-50)
So what is the good news? His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, is alive and well and motivating his followers to do the same—even today. We are called, offered grace, forgiven (even for our complicity), reconciled, and empowered by the Spirit to work for peace with justice, in union with Christ, in solidarity with all who love humanity and the earth, supported by ancestors and martyrs, able to go forward with confidence, love, and courage, knowing that even death is not the end of the story. “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
For more of Sharon’s writings on Jesus’ life in resistance to Empire, see Jesus, Resister, Part I, Good News to the Poor, Jesus, Resister, Part II, Betrayal and Death, and The Revolutionary Stories of Baby Jesus.
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