The first three petitions of the Orthodox great litany have a common theme:
In peace, let us pray to the Lord.
For the peace from above and for the salvation of our souls…
For the peace of the whole world…
Biblical scholar Michael Gorman comments:
the peace of the church is not merely for insiders, for life within the body of Christ; its inner life spirals out into the world. Paul already makes this centrifugal dimension of the church peace clear early in his writing career when he urges the Thessalonian believers to practice peacemaking (1 Thess. 5:13b) by “not repay[ing] evil for evil” and by “do[ing] good to one another and to all” (1 Thess. 5:15), which reemphasizes the prayer of 3:12: “And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all.” (Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission, Kindle 4097-4101)
It was the heavenly hosts who announced to the world that the coming of the Messiah meant peace – between God and humanity:
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:13-14)
As others have pointed out, Jesus in the Beatitudes said “Blessed are the peacemakers,” not the peace lovers. Our task is not merely to love peace, but to make it. We pray for peace for the world, and agree to be those who make it happen.
“Think about the word prayer. Prayer is the giant step of taking into your heart, the center of your life, your appeal to God for the well-being and healing of another person’s life. It is not a sentimental action but an act of will and an obedience to God, knowing that God seeks the well-being and salvation of each person. After all, each person, no matter how misguided or damaged, is nonetheless a bearer of the image of God. If it pains you to imagine the intentional destruction of an icon, how much more distress should we feel when an human being is harmed or killed?
I’m talking now about the Gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – not the Gospel according to Hollywood. The latter provides us with a never-ending parade of stories about evil people killed by good people. The basic story tempts us to prefer heroism to sanctity, or to confuse the two. A basic element of the Gospel According to Hollywood is that the evil people are so evil that there is no real solution short of hastening their death.
Confronted by such pure evil, what else can one do? But the teaching of Christ is not to kill enemies but to overcome enmity. It’s like the transformation of water into wine that Christ performed at the wedding feast in Cana. We are commanded to convert our enmity into love, and it starts with prayer.”
Luke’s inclusion of several narratives about Samaritans demonstrates also his interconnection with peace and justice, as God’s gospel way in Jesus Christ to overcome enmity and evil. The lawyer by seeking to justify himself draws forth Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. In the face of God’s love commands, the lawyer seeks self-justification. In contrast, Jesus’ parable shows love compassionately aiding not only an unknown neighbor, but a known enemy – and the hands of love are those of a Samaritan! The narrative shifts from the question, “who is the neighbor whom I am commanded to love?” to another, “am I a loving neighbor even to the enemy?”
To be such a neighbor ensures one of eternal life, and it does not test with evil intent the Teacher of truth and life. The Good Samaritan story climaxes Luke’s first segment in his Journey Narrative, which is thus framed by the Samaritan theme, for in 9:54 the disciples wanted to rain fire down upon a Samaritan village because of its rejection of the journeying prophet Jesus (cf. 2 Kgs. 1:10, 12). But Jesus rebuked them (9:55), thus expelling their evil desire.
Peace, peace, to the far and to the near, says the LORD… (Isaiah 57:19)
“For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:14-22)
Willard Swartley (COVENANT OF PEACE: THE MISSING PEACE IN NEW TESTAMENT THEOLOGY AND ETHICS) contends that some modern biblical scholars and ethicists do not treat “peace” as prominent a theme as it deserves based on how frequently the word “peace” occurs in the New Testament. These scholars fail to see how “peace” is a lens through which we need to read the New Testament. In this the last post in this series we will look at a few things which Swartley notes from the epistles of St. Paul the Apostle. As mentioned in the previous posts, the word “peace” occurs 44 times in the greater Pauline corpus, while ‘God of peace’ occurs seven times in his writings. Paul never uses ‘God of wrath’ or ‘God of judgment’ as titles for God. Says Swartley: “Paul, more than any other writer in the NT canon, makes peace, peacemaking, and peace-building central to his theological reflections and moral admonition” (p 190). Just in the above quote from Ephesians 2:14-22, Paul uses the word peace 4 times and also uses the word reconciliation – this is Paul’s understanding of who Jesus is and what salvation He brings to the world. In Christ God is reconciling the world to Himself, as well as reconciling and bringing to peace both Jews and Gentiles. Additionally, Paul in using Isaiah 57:19 in his theology clearly ties the Messiah to the promise of peace which God made through the prophets.
In Ephesians 2:14-17 Paul draws on Isaiah, just as Jesus and the Gospel writers also did. Paul sums up Jesus’ life and work by joining two Isaiah texts, 52:7 and 57:19. Christ proclaims peace is from the rich Isaiah declaration, ‘How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace’ … This oracle continues by describing further this messenger as the one ‘who announces, who says, to Zion, “Your God reigns.”’ It concludes with the universal vision: ‘all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of God’ (52:10b). (p 200)
As noted in Ephesians 2:14-22, for St. Paul not only does Christ proclaim peace, He is our peace. It is in Christ that we are reconciled with God – made one with God, ending our enmity with God due to our sin, making us at peace with God – and also ending the division between Jews and Gentiles, making us all into one people again. We are all united to one another in Christ and made into the people of God who turn out to be a living temple for God. Salvation is thus for St. Paul not just something individualistic – something that happens between “me” and God – it is social and relational in its full dimension, establishing a proper relationship between each human and God, but also between every human with each other as well as with all humans and the rest of creation itself. God’s peace brings an end in each of us to personal desire which is opposed to the good of all because God’s peace also means loving everyone as well as all of God’s creation. The denial of self that Christ taught is so that we can love everyone else and live at peace with them. In this we imitate Christ who is our peace.
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called the uncircumcision by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:11-13)
If we live in Christ, we live in Christ’s peace, because He is our peace. St. Paul describes what this means for us –
Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21)
As with the idea of shalom in the Old Covenant, we the people have to live this peace.
…in Philippians 2:1-12 … (v.12) exhorting recipients of Christ’s salvation-work to ‘work out your salvation with fear and trembling.’ God’s gift of salvation-peace is thus matched by the human responsibility to ‘work it out,’ to do those things that manifest the new life of peace with God and peace with one another. (p 211)
We are to work out our peace with God, with neighbor, with enemy and with all of the created order. Thus being in Christ changes everything for us. No longer are we to live for the self, but rather we live in love for all and everyone which and whom God loves. St. Paul’s ideas of salvation are thus opposed to ideas that “I” am to be concerned about my salvation as opposed to everyone else’s. The Church isn’t set up for me to work for my salvation with no regard for anyone else. I am to work out my salvation in love for others and for creation itself. I am saved with others and with all creation. The “us vs them” thinking which sometimes almost seems to be a defining mark of various Christians denominations is thus not the life in Christ which St. Paul imagines. All dividing walls come down in Christ, which makes is possible for all to be reconciled in Christ. I am to live in peace with everyone and everything, not become disinterested, neglectful or indifferent toward others. Nor is it correct for me to see myself working out my salvation as disconnecting me from the rest of humanity. “I” work out my salvation with the rest of humanity. The freedom Christ brings us is not freedom from others, but the freedom to work out my salvation with all others. “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another.” (Galatians 5:13; see also 1 Peter 2:16). The Church opted in its history for a “catholic” vision rather than a sectarian one – for the life of the world (John 6:51) as Fr. Schmemann so famously proclaimed . As Swartley points out:
The aim of atonement is redemptive solidarity, not penal substitution. (p 193)
Christ dies for our sins not mostly to fulfill some legal demand by a wrathful God that someone has to suffer for our sins, but in order to end the walls of enmity that pitted us one against the other and against God Himself.
Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)
Not only are we reconciled to God in Jesus Christ, but we are to be actively reconciling the world to God. This is the very vision, mission and purpose of the Church.
God’s act in Christ reconciles humans to God (not God to humans by pacifying divine wrath) and that reconciled-to-God humans are then enlisted into the ministry of reconciliation. . . . Christ, who knew no sin, but became sin for us in dying on the cross, ‘so that we might become the righteousness of God’ (cf 1 Pet 2:24). (pp 203-204)
Salvation in Christ does not pit us against others – “we” are saved but “you” are not. Rather, in Christ, we work to be reconciled with all others in the world, so that we might bring all to Christ. Those tendencies in Christianity which cause us to want to run away from the world and not be tainted by the world, fall short of St. Paul the Apostle to the Nations vision of what it means that Jesus is Messiah and Savior of the world. Christ Himself proclaimed that His Body given as food is not just communion for the faithful few but is given as life for the world.
“I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:51)
We are to go into all the world, for the life of the world and to make disciples of all nations (Mark 16:15; Matthew 28:19). We are not called to withdraw into the salt shaker, but to be the salt of the world. We are not blessed to hide our light under a bushel, but rather to be a light to the world (Matthew 5:13-16)
In Christian terms, a prayer for world peace is a prayer that Christ will prevail – not only in the world but especially in our hearts and minds. We pray constantly in Orthodoxy “in peace”, for the peace of the whole world, for the peace from above, that we might spend the remaining time of our life in peace and repentance. This peace we pray for is Christ. If the words of our prayers are not to be emptied of all meaning, then WE have to live in peace with each other, with God, with neighbor, and even with our enemies. Peace is not something God will impose upon us, but rather something we must choose and we must will, for the kingdom of God is within us.
Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, Jesus answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Lo, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21)
Swartley argues that peace – shalom – is a central theme of the Covenant that God made with Israel. That peace/shalom comes from God for His people, but the people have to uphold their part of the covenant by living the peace that God commands.
… shalom is a gift of God, but the people must actualize that reality by living in accord with the righteous and just statutes that God gives and prescribes in the covenant (Ps 119; Exodus 20; Deut 18:16-18). (p 30)
Thus the New Testament use of peace is not introducing something to people of God which didn’t exist in the first covenant, but rather expands upon it and fulfills it. Swartley offers many examples of the New Testament building upon and expanding the theme of peace found in the Old Testament. The New Testament often focuses on a peace theme that may not be mentioned directly in an Old Testament text but which the New Testament writers draw out of the text. So, for example, Genesis 14:18 reads:
And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High.
Hebrews 7:1-2 making use of this Genesis text in reference to Christ makes a clear connection between Melchizadek and peace:
For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God… is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace.
Heb 7:1-3 is plainly Christological in its use of eirene. As commonly recognized, it is a midrash on Gen 14:18-20. (p 254)
In another instance Swartley looks at Acts 10:36 –
You know the message, [God] sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ – he is the Lord of all.
Swartley points out:
The key phrase in [Acts] 10:36, ‘preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all’ … Its significance is … First it is a quotation from Isaiah 52:7 (LXX)… This is one of the Isainic texts announcing that God’s good news of peace will be heralded to and embraced by those at ‘the ends of the earth.’ (Isa 52:10; cf Acts 1:8). (p 161-162)
What the New Testament does is link God’s good news promised through the prophets with Jesus the Messiah. Jesus heralds the coming of God’s peace. The notion of peace/shalom is part of the covenant with Israel, but the New Testament fully connects this peace to Jesus Christ and expands upon the ideas presented in the first covenant.
Jesus as the Messiah shows Himself to be the King of Peace. Unlike earthly kings he does not rely on weapons of war to establish His Kingdom. He does not rely on threats of violence, on revenge, on self preservation or self defense.
When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:23)
He shows Himself to be the Son of God precisely by acting in humility, willing to suffer for and because of humanity. Commenting on Mark 15:39, Swartley notes:
For this is the treasure of the Gospel: the One who did not retaliate against the evil plots of the leaders, but willingly offered himself as suffering servant, in accord with God’s purpose… is the true Son of God. (p 115)
Swartley says this same idea of the suffering Messiah – the One willing to suffer but not afflict suffering on His enemies shows Himself to be from the God of Love. Even in the Book of Revelation, Swartley claims the same theme is evident.
The theology is similar to that of John’s Gospel, in which death and exaltation are viewed as one: in being ‘lifted up’ Jesus fulfills his commission to glorify God. The drama of Revelation is of the same moral fabric: through the Lamb’s suffering and the suffering of the believers God’s victory over evil is won. (p 334)
The paradoxical image of victory through suffering love forms the heart and soul of Revelation’s Christology. Suffering love marks the authentic followers of the Lamb. (p 343)
The up-side-down Kingdom of Heaven is inaugurated by a King whose weapon against evil is humility, suffering and the cross. Indeed as we sing in Orthodoxy, “the cross is the weapon of peace.” The incarnate Son of God chooses to suffer as his weapon and warfare. He teaches his followers to deny themselves and to take up the cross to follow Him. We are to stand our ground against evil, but not with weapons which can kill, but by laying down our lives because we completely trust God and see ourselves as belonging to His Kingdom more than to this world and its way of war.
As Swartely nicely states it:
Rather than thinking first and foremost about peace with security, the exposition leads one to think about peace through repentance. (p 2)
The Gospel is a challenge to how we want to deal with evil through self preservation and self protection rather than through self denial. Many an Orthodox saint thought self-preservation did not prevent evil but rather was the cause of much evil – making us think that killing and harming others is a good.
Finally, Swartley points out that in the Tradition we have received from the people of the First Covenant, that the use of war and military weapons to achieve one’s goals is introduced to humanity by those angels who themselves rebelled against God and God’s Kingdom:
It is striking that the various conceptualizations of evil in and behind biblical thought link war and military weapons to evil itself: in the ‘Watchers Myth’ (Azazel) gives to humans the knowledge of weapons for war (1 Enoch 8:1) (p 107, n 35)
“And Azaz’el taught the people the art of making swords and knives and shields and breastplates . . .” (1 Enoch 8:1)
Death entered into the human condition as a result of sin. “Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned—” (Romans 5:12). It was humans who then used this sin caused death to inflict further death on other humans. but it is Christ who uses death – His own – to defeat death and bring peace with God to all humans.
But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:8-10)
Instead of death stopping us from sinning, we humans used death to stop other people from living. In so doing we made ourselves enemies God who is the Giver of life. Christ undoes all of this by using death – His own – to conquer death, to give life to all, and to reconcile all of us to God. No longer are we at war with God, but in Christ we are at peace with God.
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2)
I recently finished reading Willard Swartley’s book, COVENANT OF PEACE: THE MISSING PEACE IN NEW TESTAMENT THEOLOGY AND ETHICS , which I thought was an excellent read. The book takes a serious look at the idea of peace in the New Testament as well as looking at the New Testament through the lens of peace. The chapters which look at different books in the New Testament are in themselves a superb bible study. Swartley posits that peace is central to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to the life of all Christians who are to live at peace with each other as well as with all others in the world.
Swartley comes from a peace tradition denomination, the Mennonites, and while that certainly was an inspiration for his study, his content is valuable for all Christians to consider. As the book’s subtitle suggests, he is concerned that current work in scripture scholarship and ethics underplays the role that peace has in the Gospel and entire New Testament. For example, biblical scholar James Dunn’s monumental 734 page book THE THEOLOGY OF PAUL THE APOSTLE, has only one listing in the subject index for peace, but the word “peace” (Greek: eirene) occurs 44 times in the greater Pauline corpus of writings. Says Swartley: “Paul, more than any other writer in the NT canon, makes peace, peacemaking, and peace-building central to his theological reflections and moral admonition.” (p 190)
Swartley contends that peace not only is frequently mentioned in the NT but the theme of peace is central to understanding reconciliation and salvation. Christ is bringing peace between God and humans, between Jews and Gentiles, between believers and between humans and the rest of creation.
When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together; and he said to the man that did the wrong, “Why do you strike your fellow?” (Exodus 2:13)
And on the following day he appeared to them as they were quarreling and would have reconciled them into peace, saying, ‘Men, you are brethren, why do you wrong each other?’ (Acts 7:26)
Swartley notes that for whatever reason there is a tendency to downplay the role of peace in the New Testatment. He points out or example that Acts 7:26 – is a reinterpretation of Exodus 2:13 in which Moses intervenes between 2 Jews who were fighting. St. Luke, the author of Acts, adds a motivation for Moses not mentioned in the Exodus text – Moses tries to be a peacemaker and reconcile the two men. Swartly points out that Acts 7:26 reads in Greek literally that Moses “appeared to them as they were fighting and sought to reconcile them into peace…” BUT then he notes that almost no English translation includes the phrase “into peace” (eis eirenen). Most English translations simple say Moses sought to reconcile them but eliminates any reference to peace (p 156). Swartley says the Greek mentions both reconciliation and peace which is trying to put emphasis on what Moses did, and yet English translators ignore the emphasis and even don’t bother to include the words “into peace” in their translations at all. This for Swartley is part of the evidence that “peace” is missing from much of modern biblical and ethical scholarship.
Additionally, Exodus 2:13 indicates that Moses ‘said to the one who was in the wrong, “Why do you strike your fellow Hebrew?”’ Moses only addresses the one who was attacking the other. However, in Acts 7:26, St. Luke has Moses addressing both men as culpable, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why do you wrong each other?’ Swartley notes: “By these differences Luke takes this event and portrays Moses as a peacemaker among his fellow Hebrews. Moses is thus presented as reconciler between hostile parties and works to bring unity between two men fighting with each other” (pp 156-157). Luke reinterprets the Moses narrative, adding to it a peace dimension, making Moses into a peacemaker (and then strangely, the English translations of Acts drop the very idea that Luke emphasizes in his text!).
Even the New Testament English translators focus on Moses reconciling the two Jewish opponents, yet as Swartley notes ” the word peace appears one hundred times in the New Testament, and reconciliation four times” (p x). With this overwhelming New Testament emphasis on peace more than reconciliation, it is amazing that the English translators of the New Testament still focus on reconciliation rather than peace. Brothers being reconciled is a good thing, but for them to live in peace with each other demands a great deal more self-denial and taking up the cross. Reconciliation is important when relationships are broken, but living in peace requires from us to strive not to break relationships in the first place.
Other “statistics” Swartley notes:
… the phrase, ‘God of peace’ … occurs seven times in Paul, once in Hebrews, and only once outside the NT, in Testament of Dan 5:2. . . . Paul’s frequent use of the appellation ‘God of peace’ is most significant … ‘God of hope’ occurs only once (Rom 15:13) and ‘God of love’ only once—in conjunction with ‘God of peace’ (2 Cor 13:11). . . . Note also that nowhere does ‘God of wrath’ or ‘God of judgment’ occur as titles for God in Paul. In light of the prominence of “God as Warrior” in the OT (Exod 15:3), it is striking that no such appellations for God are found in Paul or any other NT writer. . . . the notion that the God of peace is also the God who delivers/rescues… believers from divine wrath (1 Thess 1:10), from evil (2 Tim 4:17-18), persecution (3:11), and ‘wicked and evil people’ (2 Thess 3:2) lies at the heart of Pauline theology. (p 208-210) (n 59 – It is striking that the verb (syntribo) in Rom 16:20 is the same as in the LXX translation of Exod 15:3, where ‘God of war’ in the Hebrew text becomes ‘God crushes war’—an astounding reinterpretation.)
It is pretty amazing that St. Paul who gives warnings about the wrath of God does not declare Him to be the God of wrath, but does proclaim Him to be the God of Peace. I also found it so intriguing that St. Paul only refers to God as the God of Love once, yet in the Johannine writings that God is love is central to the Gospel. On the other hand, Swartley also notes: “Nowhere in the Johannine writings (Gospel, Epistles, and Revelation) are Jesus’ followers commanded to love their enemies. Nor is there an explicit emphasis on reconciliation of enmity relationships (p 276).”
So while we find in the New Testament both that God is love and that we are to love even our enemies, these two teachings are proclaimed by different New Testament authors. Both are part of our Tradition, and it helps us to see why we need the diversity of writings and voices found in the New Testament. It is a good indication as to why efforts to harmonize or homogenize divergent scripture texts are misguided. The Scriptures do not represent one monolithic human viewpoint, but give us humans insight into the omniscience of God.
One other “statistic” which I found interesting in the book: “The specific term ‘kingdom of God’ is virtually absent from the OT” (p 15). When we come to the New Testament, the New Covenant, we enter into a new creation as well. The text of Isaiah 40:9, ‘Here is your God!’ is translated in the Isaiah Targum as ‘the kingdom of God will be revealed’ (p 94). In Christ indeed God’s Kingdom is finally revealed, for Christ is Emmanuel, and where God is, there the Kingdom is for God comes in His kingdom.
“I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will bless them and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore. My dwelling place shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Then the nations will know that I the LORD sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary is in the midst of them for evermore.” (Ezekiel 37:26-28)
Swartley says: “Ezekiel prophesied that God would make a new covenant, a covenant of peace“ (p xiii). His contention is: “The (new) covenant that Jesus makes with his disciples also fulfills Ezekiel’s prophecy, where the Lord God says, ‘I will make with them a covenant of peace’ (34:25; 37:26; cf Isa 54:10) (p 177)
For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the LORD, who has compassion on you. (Isaiah 54:10)
That we might spend the remaining time of our life in peace and repentance, let us pray to the Lord. (Petitions from Orthodox liturgical services)
Brethren, let us preserve this peace in ourselves as far as we can, for we have received it as an inheritance from our Savior who has now been born, who gives us the Spirit of adoption, through which we have become heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ (cf Rom. 8:15, 17). Let us be at peace with God, doing those things which are well-pleasing to Him, living chastely, telling the truth, behaving righteously, “continuing in prayer and supplication” (cf Acts 1:14), “singing and making melody in our heart” (cf Eph. 5:19), not just with our lips. Let us be at peace with ourselves, by subjecting our flesh to our spirit, choosing to conduct ourselves according to our conscience, and having the inner world of our thoughts motivated by good order and purity. Thus we shall put an end to the civil conflict in our own midst.
Let us be at peace with one another, “forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you” (Col. 3:13), and showing mercy to each other out of mutual love, just as Christ, solely for love of us, had mercy on us and for our sake came down to us. Then, recalled from the sinful fall through His help and grace, and lifted high above this world by virtues, we may have our citizenship in heavenly places (cf Phil. 3:20), whence also we wait for our hope (cf Rom. 8:23), redemption from corruption and enjoyment of celestial and eternal blessings as children of the heavenly Father.
A picture is worth a thousand words, or at least wisdom claimed this at one time. Here are three images that caught my attention.
First from the Dayton Art Institute which recently had an origami art display. A piece entitled “Twisted Holy Book” by Miri Golan (2014):
The holy book is opened and there is an outpouring from the book as the meaning of the words expand beyond the limits of the book itself. The words have life in them and a force like the living water Christ mentions – they are moving, flowing, interacting with the reader of the words who in turn gives them life, an incarnation so that they can be observed by others who cannot see the book. If the words remain print on a page, they are lifeless, but when they flow from the pages into the world, into our hearts then they expand in a divine way – eternal and infinite. We, the readers, of course, have to be willing to allow the pages of life to enter our lives. We have to be looking for the living God on every page to see beyond the ink into the infinite. When we move beyond the words on the pages, we come to experience the Word of God to whom the Scriptures bear witness.
The year it was painted America was in the midst of the Civil War, a depressing time for the country with a lot of hopelessness, and yet the artist still had a hope in “The triumph of America.” The country was completely divided by the partisan politics of the day, by the evil of slavery – and the division sometimes pitted family members against each other. Yet, America still symbolized something – an ideal, a goodness that could rise above the turmoil, above the fray. And perhaps even the darkness was needed to make people want to find the light – to help them understand there is a light beyond the immediate controversy which can shine on us and through every darkness. It might give us hope that America is greater than what the extremists on the left and right push for and refuse to compromise on. Maybe the ideal will be the unifying factor that will enlighten and inspire our politicians to work for the common good, not for a political party when we realize the ideal is multifaceted and we may just be looking at it from different sides.
The third work I saw at the Denver Art Museum, entitled “Peace: The Beauty of Friendship Overcomes the Beasts of War” by Steff Geissbuhler (1986):
This one brought a smile to my face as Godzilla and King Kong, mortal enemies in the movie hold hands and share an ideal. The beasts of war are in our heart – individually but also collectively as a nation. We can overcome and tame those beasts, humans actually can rise above their passions if they choose. We as creatures in God’s image can rise above our mere animal nature. If we understand that we are a small piece of the big picture which is unfolding, and that we are not God, not even Godzilla, but are human, capable of soothing the beasts within ourselves, capable of opening our hearts to allow the God who is love to dwell in us. We may disagree but our warfare need not last forever.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-8; emphases not in original text)
It has been noted that St. Paul speaks fairly frequently about peace and reconciliation in his various epistles. Surprisingly, therefore, not many scholars focus on Paul as an advocate for peace. It certainly has been noted that peace – shalom – is a very important theological concept throughout the Old Testament.
Biblical Scholar Michael Gorman writes:
For our purposes, we will define shalom — a word that appears 238 times in the Bible (Old Testament) — rather generally. First, negatively, shalom is the resolution and cessation — and henceforth the absence — of chaos, conflict, oppression, and broken relations. Second, positively, shalom is the establishment, and henceforth the presence, of wholeness, reconciliation, goodness, justice, and the flourishing of creation — “physical and spiritual wellbeing.” (Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission, Kindle 3735-3741)
If we think about shalom meaning “physical and spiritual wellbeing”, we come to understand that Christ healing people was not merely a medical miracle, it was giving the person the shalom God promises His people. Too many Christians put way too much emphasis on the miracle/magic of Christ’s healing people, and fail to see that miracles are signs of God’s peace. The healing is not the most important thing that happens. Rather, the one who is healed participates in the shalom of God – participates not only in God’s promises, but participates in God! The healing part of the miracle is the least significant part of what is being given and revealed. Yet, Christians ignore what the miracle points to and continue to want only magic in their lives. Consider the Gospel lesson of Luke 13:10-17 –
Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up. But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.” And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.
But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.” The Lord then answered him and said, “Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound – think of it – for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?” And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.
The woman who is healed immediately praises God. She is experiencing shalom, physical and spiritual well-being. She is reconciled to God. Her relationship with God is restored – something she could not experience in her diseased state. Yes, diseased includes being dis-eased. She could never have peace while in her suffering state.
The woman’s healing, her shalom, reveals the dis-ease of the synagogue ruler. He is truly diseased. He cannot rejoice in the woman’s healing or experience the peace of God. He is incapable of seeing God in the miracle. God gives shalom to those who are ready to receive it. The woman was ready, but the synagogue ruler clearly was not.
Miracles are not given as some divine magic allowing a person to pursue their own interests. A miracle of God restores a person to a proper relationship with God, it gives peace, shalom to the person. It is the peace of God which we each should be seeking in our lives. A miracle which does not bring a person into peace with God is a failed miracle.
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Ephesians 4:1-6; emphases not in the original text)
Almighty God and Creator, You are the Father of all people on the earth. Guide, I pray, all the nations and their leaders in the ways of justice and peace. Protect us from the evils of injustice, prejudice, exploitation, conflict and war.
Help us to put away mistrust, bitterness and hatred. Teach us to cease the storing and using of implements of war. Lead us to find justice, peace and freedom. Unite us in the making and sharing of tools of peace against ignorance, poverty, disease and oppression.
Grant that we may grow in harmony and friendship as brothers and sisters created in Your image, to Your honor and praise. Amen.