“Peace? Sure, we have peace. Jesus brings us peace with God. But no more war? Not in this world!”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this sentiment. Not necessarily in those exact words, but the idea has been repeated so many times it’s become a truism.
“Yes, Jesus came to bring peace: peace with God and peace with each other. But while we can have peace with God now, which gives us peace in our hearts, and while we should strive for peace with each other, we need Jesus to come back before that ‘no more conflict, no more violence, no more war’ thing can become reality.”
Hogwash, I say.
Jesus has given us everything we need for peace now, peace in every way. Either we just don’t realize it, or we don’t really believe it.
At least, that’s how Luke describes things.
In the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel is the well-known Advent-y story of John the Baptist’s birth. His father, the priest Zechariah, had been struck dumb during Elizabeth’s pregnancy. But now that the child is born and named he bursts out in praise of God. In the middle of all the hubbub, Zechariah speaks this prophecy:
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Zechariah’s prophecy is linking back to Isaiah 40, the “Comfort, comfort my people” passage. And that prophecy, Isaiah 40, is written for Israel in Exile, scattered among the nations, immersed in a world of violence and oppression and injustice and fear. A world, in other words, that needed peace.
So here’s what Isaiah promised, and what Zechariah repeats: Good news! Yahweh, the God of Israel, is coming! The Lord, the Most High, is coming, and we must get ready! His coming will be like the coming of the dawn for a dark and dying world! His coming will bring salvation from our most ominous enemies, forgiveness from our most devastating and destructive sins! He will guide us in the way of peace!
What a promise! Imagine if, in our world of darkness and death, our world of genocide and carpet bombs, our world of armed robberies and hate crimes, our own hearts soaked in fear and anxiety—imagine if those words were said to us today. Don’t worry! Someone is coming who will show you how to have peace—peace within you, peace among you!
This is the first of Luke’s peace prophecies—exactly what that world needed, exactly what our world needs.
But jump ahead now to a second peace prophecy, this one in Luke 19. It’s the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. After years of intense ministry, Jesus is coming to his God-ordained end. And as he sees the city and its glorious temple, the jewel of his people, Jesus weeps. He weeps, and speaks this prophecy:
If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.
Jesus is speaking of the future destruction of Jerusalem, which happened within a generation of his prediction. The Roman armies indeed set up ramparts around Jerusalem and laid siege to the city. The citizens of Jerusalem were indeed crushed to the ground, they and their children within them. The city and its glorious temple were indeed pulled down, stone by stone by massive stone.
And why did that happen? According to Jesus here in Luke, because the people “did not recognize the time of their visitation from God.” They did not recognize “the things that make for peace.”
Luke is linking Jesus’ prophecy here to Zechariah’s prophecy back in chapter one. There, God is coming, God’s visitation is near. Here, God’s visitation has happened, but they’ve missed it. There, God in his coming would “guide their feet into the way of peace.” Here, God has come, but they have missed “the things that make for peace”—and so they would find themselves on the wrong side of a bloody, destructive war.
These two passages—one looking ahead to Jesus’ ministry, the other looking back at it—suggest that the “way of peace,” the “things that make for peace,” have in fact already been revealed during Jesus’ earthly ministry. According to Luke, then, if we want to know the “things that make for peace,” if we want to know God’s “way of peace” for the world, we need to look back at all those peace-making things Jesus has already done.
Here’s just a few of these “lessons in the way of peace” Luke’s Jesus has taught.
Luke 3: Jesus is baptized by John, anointed by the Spirit and appointed by God. He is God’s Son, the Messiah, the King who will bring in God’s kingdom, but he is also the well-pleasing Servant of Isaiah, who will bring about God’s purposes through suffering and death. The lesson? The way of peace is a path of self-giving, maybe even suffering.
Luke 4: Jesus is tempted in the wilderness, three times. He says no to satisfying his own needs through his power. He says no to keeping himself safe because of his special status. He says no to ruling over the world if it means venerating evil. The lesson? The way of peace requires us to resist the temptation to bring about even good things through raw power or evil means, or by putting our own provision and protection ahead of others.
Luke 5-6: Jesus heals any who are sick, laying hands on them, touching them in compassion in spite of any regulations about clean and unclean, in spite of any laws about Sabbath and holy days. The lesson? The way of peace is a way of compassion, choosing compassion over fear, choosing compassion over rules, choosing compassion regardless of what society thinks.
Luke 6: Jesus pronounces both blessings and woes, and it’s absolutely the opposite of what we expect: the poor, the hungry, the weeping, are the blessed ones, while the rich, the full, the laughing, are warned with woe. And then Jesus keeps the surprises coming: “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Give to everyone who asks. Do not judge, but instead forgive. In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you.” The lesson? The way of peace requires us to embrace the other, even the completely opposite other, with generous love.
Luke 11: Jesus teaches his followers to pray. “Father, you are holy. May your rule be established on earth. Provide for all of us, all our daily needs. Forgive all of us, all our sins, as we forgive each other. Protect all of us, from every evil.” The lesson? The way of peace means recognizing that we’re all in this together, one humanity under God, and basic provision and security and mercy for one requires provision and security and mercy for all.
Luke 12: Jesus teaches his followers to trust, and not to fear. “Don’t put your trust in riches, things that spoil and fade! Don’t be afraid of those who can kill the body but not touch the soul! Don’t worry about what you will eat or what you will wear! Trust in God, who watches over even the smallest sparrow and clothes even the simplest flower.” The lesson? The way of peace is a path of faith, patiently trusting in God for all things and through all things.
These, and more, are Jesus’ lessons in the “way of peace.” Show compassion. Be generous. Reject violence and fear. Don’t judge others. Forgive them. Remember, we’re all in this together. In all things, trust in God.
In Luke’s Gospel these “things that make for peace” are repeated over and over, in many different ways. Deny yourself and take up your cross, daily. Love others like a good Samaritan. Joyfully embrace repentant sinners like a father of a prodigal son returned. Attend to those on the lowest rungs of society: the poor man outside your gates, the children sitting along the edges. Trust in God for the long haul, like a farmer patiently waiting for that little mustard seed to grow, like a baker patiently waiting for that yeast to do its work.
Simple things, but so hard to put into practice moment by moment and day by day. They go against the grain of our “fight or flight” instincts. They run counter to our inclination to fear, to judge, to lash out, to look out for number one. Yet these are the “things that make for peace,” these are God’s “way of peace,” peace within us, and peace among us.
Jesus has already brought everything we need for peace, in every way. And yet here we are, two thousand years later, still fighting wars and telling rumours of wars, still engaged in global conflicts and petty catfights, still resorting to physical and psychological and verbal and emotional violence against one another.
Will we learn “the things that make for peace”? Will we learn God’s “way of peace” through Jesus?
Or does Jesus weep over us as he wept over Jerusalem, because we too refuse to recognize the time of God’s visitation two thousand years ago, bringing God’s way of peace?
This post is adapted from a sermon preached at Morden Mennonite Church on December 20, 2015. For more from this sermon see my follow-up post, “MLK and ‘The Things that Make for Peace.'” Cross-posted from http://www.mordenmennonitechurch.wordpress.com. © Michael W. Pahl