We are in week three of the Season of Peace, and this Sunday’s focus is peace and peacemaking.
While the word “peace” is often used in politics, who has used them shows us just how we misunderstand the word. Richard Nixon used the peace sign as he entered the helicopter that removed him from the White House premises after his disgrace. Ronald Reagan talked about how he was using the nuclear threat to bring world peace and even named nuclear warheads “Peacemaker”. George Bush called his invasion of Iraq a peace mission, even though it was to protect oil companies. His misguided son, George W. Bush, invaded Afghanistan with a claim to bring peace from terror. Twenty years of humiliation only brought death and suffering. Politicians repeatedly lie to the people and themselves by disguising their love for violence and murdering millions of people around the world as a means of peace. These wars only increased hate and animosity. It is obivous that they have no idea what peace means.
Because we have been duped by politicians for so long, because we have grown up in a world filled with constant violence, we have no idea what peace means. Since the arrival of the Conquistadors in what is now Mexico in 1519, there has never been a year without a war on North or South America. That is more than 500 years of constant violence. Our entirety of the U.S.’s history is taught through wars and violence. The stories of battles, victory over the enemy, violent uprisings, suffering of the people, and death are such common occurrences we accept it as inevitable. We have no idea what peace means.
If you ask schoolchildren to define peace, you get one of the saddest answers you will ever hear. Their answer reveals the utter failure of humanity. They will say, “Absence of war.” How sad is that? Peace is a state of emptiness of war and violence. Peace has no meaning in itself. To them, it is nothing more than a period of waiting for the next war, a mistake in history. They don’t know what peace is apart from war. They have no idea what peace means.
Even when we read the Bible, we go to the stories of Cain and Abel to prove the violence and even murder of a brother as a natural part of the human condition. We turn to the stories of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden and teach animosity between two people and with God as a natural condition God has intended for humans. We celebrate the murder of babies of Egypt as well as all “living beings,” including children in the Promised Land as a victory for God. The Bible is used to justify our violent and war-faring ways. It is obvious we have no idea what peace means.
When a Jewish believer greets you with “Shalom” or a follower of Islam greets you with “Salaam,” they are saying the same thing. They greet you with a wish. They wish for you “wholeness of your personhood.” So, when you meet them, they hope that you are experiencing wholeness, and when you leave, they wish that you continue to experience that wholeness. Then the time with another person is to help one another experience the wholeness of their humanity. This is the true meaning of peace.
The entire ministry of Jesus was to help restore the wholes of people. He healed those whose illnesses prevented them from feeling like a whole person. He freed the prisoners so they could be whole members of society. He forgave people so the wholeness of relationships could be restored. He accepted those who were thrown away by others and showed them the wholeness in God. Jesus understood the true meaning of peace.
As the followers of Jesus, the people of The Way, we are called to be examples of what it means to be whole people. Violence, war, and winning against another deny us our wholeness as people, and we are mere flesh and bones, with no souls, the dry bones of Ezekiel 37. The biblical wisdom was meant to restore peace and the wholeness of people, but many intentionally misinterpret the words of Jesus for the purposes of violence. They use it to exclude people from the kin-dom of God and claim that the grace of Jesus is only for them and their kind. They are sadly mistaken. Jesus is restoring the wholeness of all people and we are called to be a part of that kin-dom of God. The Bible is about true peace.
Shalom, Salaam, peace.