Sixth Sunday after Easter
Stuart Rees recently wrote: ‘In the grinding weeks of an Australian Federal election, something needs to happen to change the language, to prompt debate, to craft vision, and even generate excitement. That something could be the goal of peace with justice.’ (Stuart Rees ’Reporting about Ukraine: peace difficult, war easy,’ Pearls and Irritations, April 20, 2022). There is increased cynicism and abuse in the electioneering as we saw in debates between the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader with fearmongering, lies, name calling, misinformation, dirty tricks, and media ’gotcha moments’.
Fears are raised about border security, transexual people, and the impact on our hip pockets of the tide was turned and we became a more caring, compassionate, participative, and engaging society. Rees also writes, ’Fascination with war is nurtured by political cultures which foster the idea that security depends on force of arms, that alliances to defend a world order depend on militarism, on worship of materialism and on assumptions about western moral superiority. That culture is always prepared for war but comes late in the day to peace.’
But Jesus always stands among us and says ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.’ Jesus is talking about peace and fear. But don’t we yearn for that peace as we witness conflict, division, sorrow, and pandemic.
Jesus is talking to us about peace and fear. Fear is not his way, though the way in much of the world – its culture, its politicians and even our faith communities. Are we looking for peace in the wrong place? Jesus’ way is peace and nonviolence. This peace (the ‘shalom’ of God), connected with Jesus’ command last week to ‘love one another’, is to be at home with God, one another, and all creation which most of our leaders cannot promise.
In the Acts of the Apostles, some members of the early community thought they could capture the Spirit and put it into a ‘box’ in an exclusive way. But the Spirit cannot be contained, it always has other plans and leads us beyond known horizons if we are open to it. It reveals God’s love and justice are not limited to one people or one place. God is not territorial or parochial. God’s love and justice are not limited to one people or one place, but to ‘all the ends of the earth. We are being pushed beyond all kinds of boundaries to embrace every ‘other,’ (not like me). God’s reign, that ‘new heaven and new earth’, is global in character and uncontrollable. As we witness the devastation of war, Bishop N.T. Wright reminds us, ’The whole point of the Reign of God is Jesus has come to bear witness to the true truth, which is nonviolent. When God wants to take charge of the world, God doesn’t send in the tanks but sends in the poor and the meek’ (quoted and edited for gender inclusiveness from Keith Giles, Jesus Unarmed: How the Prince of Peace Disarms our Violence). Fr John Dear says, ‘Nonviolence is the only thing Jesus taught. He did not teach us how to kill or wage war or make money; he taught us how to be nonviolent…..offer no violent resistance to one who does evil… Love your enemies.’ ……… pursue the endless creativity of nonviolence’ ……… and put down your sword, it is not needed. In the face of violence and death, Jesus taught his followers how to respond to violence with peace.
Jesus’ peace was based on total nonviolence – not the false ‘peace’ that uses violence, whether physical or hateful language, to overcome enemies or opponents which can be manifested as disrespect, devaluation, neglect, and vilification. ’If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each one’s life sorrow and suffering to disarm all hostility’ (Keith Giles).
In their 1983 pastoral letter, The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops said, ’Peacemaking is not an optional commitment. It is a requirement of our faith. We are called to be peacemakers, not by some movement of the moment, but by our Lord Jesus’ (#333). Jesus’ love is both blessing and responsibility. This unconditional love is given so that we can know and grow in that love by sharing it with others. As in the early Church, we sense the seriousness of a crisis of identity and its politics where some want to protect the traditions that define belief, and others living out that believe in relationship. Paul pushed the boundaries of Christianity by challenging his fellow believers to come to new understandings of what being in relationship with God meant. A bold response to the new horizons inspired by the Spirit had little do to with ghetto-like fear and timidity. We might ask where are we being called to share love and promote the peace the peace of Jesus in our world today? Where are our religious leaders today when countries are bullied by dominant powers? Where are our religious leaders as young people are intimidated and vilified because are not at home in the body they were born in? How many speak out with the peace of Jesus within the churches, within our communities and between nations? Jesus, in the gospel today, speaks to the disciples in anticipation of his departure calling them, and us, to let go from whatever in our lives – comfort, security, self-interest, prejudices, isolating – that prevent us from living lives of integrity, solidarity and justice for all in God’s reign. In Jesus, God is pushing the boundaries of acceptance and love and challenges us to let go of whatever is no longer relevant or life-affirming for all. Compassion and love cannot be selective.
For three centuries after Jesus’ resurrection, Christians took seriously his nonviolent message, often at great cost. For them the only way to growth and transformation was found in their ability to adjust to changes in their communities and face a new future with courage as then walked unknown paths. Amnesia set in when Christianity became the official religion under Constantine and fought for the empire - and still does with some exceptions where people follow a just peace paradigm based on based on justice and nonviolence.
We are called to take risks for the Reign of God – expressed as a new sisterhood and brotherhood. As first century Christians applied Jesus’ teachings and example to their context so too are we. We cannot, like the first Christians, respond by fear and defence of status quo at all costs but model ourselves on Jesus’ radical inclusiveness, compassion and solidarity. A powerful characteristic of Jesus’ first followers in seeking to live out the Gospel was hospitality where the hungry were fed, strangers welcomed, the vulnerable in the form of the widow, the orphan and the sick cared for. For those of us who seek to follow Christ, our vote, and our voice in public dialogue, on these key issues are a significant influence in creating a more hospitable world.
The reference to the ‘new heaven and new earth’ describes a new way of being together. It is about people not buildings or structures. Jesus instructs us to ‘love one another’ as God loves us. When we examine its demands, we realise how revolutionary it is. This is how we are to be in the world. It is not vague or dreamy love but real, flesh and blood love. It includes love of our enemies; involves forgiveness; espouses ‘zero tolerance’ for racism or degradation of another as the image of God; it calls for open doors where they have been closed; it involves listening to people who suffer and suffered injustice and experienced loss, hopes and dreams dashed, etc. This love opens our eyes to the reality that the poor belong to our family such as Indigenous people who still live in third world conditions as people who live in despair, loneliness and abandonment longing for our presence and care. This Spirit is available to everyone — to the churched and the unchurched; to Christians and to all who believe in God; to men and women; to clergy and laypeople; to all the people of God.
In Acts, we saw how the early church was in danger of becoming a ghetto of like-minded individuals. It still is. We are always being asked to cross boundaries beginning with the person nearest to us. The peace Jesus gives is a way of living and a perspective adopted towards everybody and everything we encounter. It becomes real when we act with compassion, gratitude, and generosity of heart every day. It is calls for an active response from each of us motivating us to dismantle barriers that divide, to seek to understand others, to forgive those who hurt us. It nudges us to open ourselves to the promptings of God’s Spirit and to become advocates ourselves for the poor, the forgotten, the dispossessed and the alienated. It means living our faith with creativity, discernment, and courage. John’s dream of the new Jerusalem followed its destruction by the Romans. It can come about when the old Jerusalem that is steeped in self-security, triumphalism and power dies and seeking peace through justice, mercy, service, care, compassion take hold.