Gospel: The Peace of Christ

When discussing questions of tradition and change in the church, whether at the parish level or that of the universal church, “peace” is not the first word that jumps to mind. The tensions in the life of the church today, though, mirror those at the time of the Apostles.

Acts 15 outlines the deliberations of the Council of Jerusalem, which took place around A.D. 49 or 50. Prior to the gathering, certain disciples of Jesus in Antioch claimed that “unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Paul and Barnabas, says Luke, “had no small dissension and debate with them.” We are not privy to the particulars of the response, but we can be assured that the arguments were fierce. Ultimately, the issue was brought to Jerusalem to be decided by the apostles and the elders, guided by the Holy Spirit. And the decision of the council was that being circumcised was not necessary for salvation.

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This must have shaken the world of many of the early Christians, but the peace Christ gives the church clearly does not preclude profound disagreements. What must bind the church together throughout its differences is the understanding that the Holy Spirit is present among the disciples of Jesus. Christ connects the giving of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, to the giving of his peace (eirēnē) to the disciples. But if the giving of the Holy Spirit to the church is the promise of peace, what kind of peace does Christ give?

Christ’s peace is comparable not to that of shaky political allegiances but to the steadfastness of God. In Jesus’ use of the word, we must consider the Hebrew concept of shalom, which can mean health, the well-being of the whole person and friendship, as well as the absence of war. All of these must certainly be considered as aspects of peace. But two other senses of shalom come closer to Jesus’ deepest meaning of peace, for shalom can indicate divine grace and, in particular, the salvation that the Messiah brings.

As Francis Moloney says in The Gospel of John (Page 410), “the gift of peace, therefore, is intimately associated with the gift of the Spirit-Paraclete, the ongoing presence of Jesus in his absence (cf. vv. 16-17, 26), the source of the disciples being loved by the Father and Son, the agent for the ongoing revelation of both Jesus and the Father to the one who loves Jesus and keeps his commandments in the in-between-time (vv. 20-21).”

In what Moloney calls the “in-between-time,” our now, Christ’s peace does not inoculate us from the reality of the world and its warfare, not from psychological or physical pain, not from arguments and bruised feelings; nor will it mimic the sappy sentimentality of greeting cards or TV movies and make certain every day is sunshiny and happy. The peace of Christ is the gift of eternal life (Jn 10:28) and the gift of joy (Jn 15:11) that transcends the vicissitudes and losses of this life, because it offers the deep joy of salvation, which God gives and the world cannot snatch away.

And when it seems, sometimes, that all we can think of in the “in-between-time” are the disputations among us, part of the work of the Paraclete is to cause the church to “remember” (hypomnēskō) what Jesus taught, for Jesus says “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” The Holy Spirit has not abandoned the church and will not do so but offers ongoing insight into what Jesus taught in order to guide the church into the truth.

It is only after the promise of the gift of the Paraclete that Jesus offers his peace, encouraging his disciples not to “let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” This peace is unlike the world’s peace precisely because the gift of peace is the gift of eternal life. Guided into all truth by the Paraclete, the church must be untroubled and fearless in the midst of the travails of the “in-between-time” as it remembers the teachings of Jesus.

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Bruce Snowden
2 years ago
Professor Martens, you are an awesome teacher! You manage to say so much about our Faith on one page in AMERICA in every issue, that one needs little or no additional incentive to love Jesus as he loves us – unconditionally. And you do this with the unparalleled certitude of scholarship and more importantly with devotion that permeates your writings with a kind of chrism confirming belief. Thanks! The essay explaining “The Peace Of Christ” for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, is spectacular and could be used by any homilist without addition, or extraction for to do so would be to dry up the unctuous drip of the Holy Spirit. Quoting Francis Moloney you remind us that, “the gift of peace, therefore, is intimately associated with the Gift of the Paraclete.” Who is the Paraclete? It is “the ongoing presence of Jesus in his absence … the source … the agent of the ungoing revelation … " When? “in the in-between-times” namely, “our now,” Francis Moloney’s wisdom is spotlighted by your own, when you unambiguously say, obviously in light generated by the Peace of Christ, that, “Guided into all truth by the Paraclete, the church must be untroubled and fearless in the midst of the travails of the ‘in-between-time’ as it remembers the teachings of Jesus.” I think Holy Father Francis understands supremely well what guidance into “all truth” not new truth, but elements of existing truth better understood means. The Paraclete, like an orbiting inter-stella camera sends back images of existing truth “ever ancient ever new” never before imagined, but useful to the Church and beneficial to all People of God in our precise part of the “in-between-times.” We are blessed!
John Martens
2 years ago

Bruce,

Thank you so much for your kind words! They are much appreciated.

John

 

TOM KOSTRZEWA
2 years ago
I can only add an "Amen" to the comment below. My sermon prep nearly every week (I preach to a very small, elderly Presbyterian congregation, so our readings do not always align) begins with your words of wisdom and insight after my first reading of the readings. Dr. Martens, you have a wonderful way of taking us deeper into the readings without getting us lost. Your commentaries are often part of my own lectio. Thank you.
Beth Cioffoletti
2 years ago
When Jorge Bergoglio was about to become Pope Francis, he says that he felt a Darkness, and then a great peace. A peace that has never left him. Those who know Francis personally, say that you can see the peace (and change) on his face. Could that be a living, visible action of the Holy Spirit in our world? These are, indeed, In-Between-Times; Francis feels much like a Paraclete to me - one who guides, comforts. I was in St. Peter's Square on Easter Sunday (2014). The morning was glorious: bells ringing, birds diving and soaring in the excitement of the day. It was difficult not to sense that one was somehow standing on an edge with eternity. A boundary had been dissolved. Knowing that this peace transcends political and personal turmoil is helpful, even essential. If it merely eased the tension, it would be like a temporary drug to make us "feel better". Fake peace. In-Between-Times describes well our place.

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