A viral pandemic of peace   

2 Kings 5.1-14

Psalm 30

Galatians 6.7-18

Luke 10.1-12, 10.17-24

A viral pandemic of peace                                                  ©Suzanne Grimmett

What does the word peace mean to you?

Jesus tells us he comes to bring peace, and the disciples sent out are to offer peace to those whose house they enter.

In the West we tend to think of peace as an absence of conflict. But is that really what Jesus is saying here? Is he saying, “I give to you a time where there is no fighting and no violence.”

Are the disciples to enter houses with a presence that meant there would be no arguments or fist fights?

Is that it? If it is, I would think we could be saying, “Thanks Lord, but we can most of the time manage that for ourselves.” The idea of peace carries such import in sacred texts that there must be more to it than an absence of conflict and violence.

I think beginning to understand peace is like beginning to understand salvation. Raimon Panikka describes a study of peace as an endeavour to understand the mystery of reality. This begins with an assumption that the ultimate structure of all reality is harmonious, and that peace is our participation in the harmony of our being, and the being of all things. Perhaps what we mean by our ‘salvation’ is really participation in and surrender to that elemental harmony.

It is not, however, about fleeing the world and finding a cave on a cliff where we can practice inner peace removed from anything and anyone that would disrupt or disturb. While it is true that we need to first allow inner peace to be born in us before we can share that with the world, no authentic spirituality would take us away from reality. Jesus sends his disciples ‘as lambs in the midst of wolves’, knowing that they will be bringing the peace of God into places of violence and enmity. The way we respond to that enmity, matters, if we are to be people of peace.

The way to peace, matters. When it comes to peace, the ends never justify the means. The road to peace is only and ever through the practice of peace. This is reminiscent of the words of St Catherine of Siena that ‘it is heaven all the way to heaven because Jesus said, “I am the way.”’

The means and way of cultivating peace, matters, because peace can never be imposed but can only be received. Jesus points to this in his instructions to his disciples when they are not received with hospitality, to simply wipe the dust from their feet and keep moving. Instead of delivering curses or calling down wrath from the heavens, this gentle action simply leaves the responsibility where it belongs. How often do we persist in trying to help people or ‘save’ people or rescue people, often doing violence to them or ourselves, when what we should be doing is allowing the other to take responsibility for themselves? Can we allow our love for others to simultaneously honour our own boundaries? Are we able to live our lives in a way that insists on respect for ourselves and all others and practices that in small and great ways…leaving the judgement to God?

There is some comfort in recognising the pattern of peace within the universe. If there is an essential harmony at the heart of everything, then any attempt we might make to shape the world into our own self-interested design will surely be futile. Paul’s letter to the Galatians points to this, with its strident declaration, “God will not be mocked!” The related phrase, ‘you reap what you sow’ may seem to contradict the Christian doctrine of salvation by grace, and therefore be less comforting. Even if we may secretly hope sometimes that those who hurt us will get everything they deserve, our honesty may compel us to admit that we hope we don’t receive the same kind of unforgiving judgement. However, I think “you reap what you sow” also, is a statement that points to the deep order and harmony of the world; if love and honour and peace and forgiveness are in the DNA of our creation, then we cannot treat ourselves, one another, or the earth with disrespect or violence and expect things to work out well. ‘You reap what you sow’ in that context is simply a statement of fact, not an expression of the desire of God for us. Karma is a principle that can only be broken by forgiveness and reconciliation- in other words, human expectations and violent patterns are disrupted by the infiltration of our world and our being by the Christ who comes bringing peace.

There is a power at work in the world which springs from the essential harmony at the heart of all reality, but it is a power sometimes hidden in plain sight. Jesus gives thanks to the creator of all that this truth (while ignored or completely missed by those driven by their own will to dominate), could be revealed to children…those who come in trust, humility and vulnerability. Michael Wood describes the revelation of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus as ‘like a viral Trojan Horse secretly planted into the dominant operating system of our world.’[1] Although Michael does express reservations because of our associations of viruses with the destruction of life, I think it is an apt metaphor for the way this narrative of peace subverts the operating systems of power and disrupts the programs of violence, opening doorways to reconciliation and freedom through forgiveness. It is in his surrender to this way of forgiveness and peace that Paul claims that the world has been crucified to him, and he to the world. All the violence of the world was thrown at God in Christ, who became like a lightning rod, taking these death-dealing forces upon himself, and transforming them through the power of love and forgiveness.

This is not, however, a once off event in history. The point of the Christian myth, this viral Trojan horse, is that it is for every moment. A myth is an event which in some sense happened once, but which also happens over and again. The seed of God’s new life is always present, placed in our hearts and nurtured so we grow into people of peace in whom the life, death and resurrection of Jesus become a lived way of being. Paul proclaims in excitement, ‘a new creation is everything!’ We are being recreated in every present moment as we allow our ego with its competing desires and will to dominate to die with Christ and our new nature to be raised up by the Spirit; a new nature that does not live by the old ways of colonising and controlling, judging and punishing, but by forgiveness and reconciliation.

The Jesus of John’s Gospel promises that “if the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed.” To be free is to experience the surrender that would call us to lay down the fear that leads us in violent ways and take up the peace that cannot be imposed but can only be received as a gift. This virus set loose in the world to dismantle coercive power with a positive infection is the good news for which we all long; that we are beloved and forgiven, evil is broken and defeated and death will not have the last word. We are called to receive this peace that converts our hearts, living as agents of the crucified and risen one who restores us to one another and invites us into the Way that leads to life.

And so I pray, using the words of Steven Shakespeare;

God, whose kingdom comes

impossibly near:
share with us the authority
that sets others free;

send us on the way
of challenge and conversion;
reveal to us the vision
of hatred falling from its throne
in summer lightning storms;
through Jesus Christ,

the Prince of Peace. Amen. [2]

[1] Michael Wood, Practicing Peace: Theology, Contemplation and Action, (Wipf& Stock, Oregon:2022), p 54

[2] Adapted from Steven Shakespeare, Prayers for an Inclusive Church, (Canterbury Press, Norwich: 2008) p 100