(See the readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 22.)
“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.”
The words of Jesus come to us today as we continue to hear and see the images of war coming from the Ukraine. The horrors of the battles, the killing of innocent people and the destruction of homes, schools, hospitals, places of work and public buildings keep coming.
The obscenities of the conflict were focused this week on a 21-year-old Russian soldier who pleaded guilty to shooting a 62-year-old man riding a bicycle, following orders given by his commander as they rode by in a vehicle.
The effects of the war are coupled with the prospect of a significant food shortage, especially for poorer countries, and the economic woes of inflation and market instability. The situation naturally raises fears and anxieties.
It is in this context that we hear the words of Jesus: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”
What does he mean? How do we hear these words amidst so much senseless violence and destruction? Where is the peace that Jesus offers?
Jesus gives us direction and help when he says: “Not as the world gives it, do I give it to you.” Jesus gives us a “peace” that is interior and spiritual. While the “peace” is both individual and communal, it is not something that is always visible in the way of the temporal and transitory. When considering the “peace” Jesus offers, we might reflect on three aspects of the peace he offers and find hope in them.
First, “peace” is related to a wholesome and integral relationship. God’s vision for humanity and all creation is that everything exists together as a unified whole. People are to live, pray, play and work together as a family caring for each other in genuine love.
While the vision is perfect, the reality of human imperfection and sin are always present. The broken relationship between God and humanity was restored through Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. Jesus, standing in for all mankind, remains faithful until death, never turning away from the Father or his vision for life. His resurrection witnesses to the reconciliation now achieved, the mercy now poured forth and the redemption of all humanity. Sharing in Jesus’ life-giving death through baptism allows us to partake of his “peace,” for by it we are united with God and each other in him.
Second, “peace” is related to Jesus’ resurrection. We are still celebrating Easter at this time of the year. The exultant greeting “The Lord is Risen! Alleluia! Alleluia!” reminds us of the power of Jesus’ resurrection. He is triumphant over sin and death. His victory is real. He is alive. The forces of evil and sin are robbed of their power to harm. Jesus can thus say: “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” Baptism offers us the promised share in His Resurrection and divine life.
Jesus can offer us peace because he is the victor over evil. Death, which was perhaps the most destructive effect of evil, no longer has power because he is risen. Jesus, as the Lord of life, gives of a share in that life, a life which is eternal.
Third, “peace” is related to the “big picture.” God’s vision for humanity (which can be called “the kingdom of God”) and the peace established by Jesus come to completion at the end of time. The Book of Revelation, from which the second readings are taken this season, is a highly symbolic writing which conveys the message of hope for that final victory when the battles are done and the struggle is over.
Today’s reading uses the image of the New Jerusalem to convey this message. Jesus promised his return. He remains with us now through the Paraclete or Spirit. When he does return, all things will be brought to completion or perfection.
The promised return reminds us that we find ourselves now in the middle of time. We have to deal with the hardships of life, whether small or big. We have to deal with the imperfections in life, whether ours or others. We have to deal with the sins in life, likewise whether ours or others. Mercy is available for healing which enlivens our hope. And hope points us forward to the end for which we run this race of life – the New Jerusalem. In this context, hope brings with it “peace.”
These days are difficult and worrisome for many people here and around the world. What will happen next? How far will this develop? Is it going to get worse? We do not know the answers to these questions, nor will we be able to answer them.
What we do know, however, is that Jesus is risen from the dead — and therein lies our peace. “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.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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