FOURTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – Is 66:10-14 Gal 6:14-18 Lk 10:1-12, 17-20 (or 10:1-9) – Peace and Rejoicing . Missionary Christianity; Faith; Universality of the Gospel Message.
One of the most beautiful words in the English Language is “peace”. Peace isn’t merely the absence of war, and isn’t limited to maintaining a balance of powers between adversaries. It is “the tranquility of order”; it is the work of justice and the effect of charity (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2304). And it makes demands.
In fact, the history of humankind seems to be the story of its wars. Of the 3,400 years of recorded human history, 3,166 were years of war and the remaining 234 were years of preparation for war. The United States was created by war, has a constitution that calls for the funding of its military to fight wars, has a averaged a major war every thirty years, regularly boasts of being the world’s greatest military power, is the world’s largest arms dealer, and has four military academies to train professional soldiers.
A poet has said, not without great truth, “Give me the money that has been spent in war and I will clothe every man, woman, and child in the attire of which kings and queens would be proud. I will build a schoolhouse in every valley over the earth. I will crown every hillside with a place of worship consecrated to the Gospel of peace.”
Less poetically, think of the real-life advantages of a country not having to support a military establishment – a better standard of living; a high per cent of its national budget for health; a high literacy rate; choice education free at all levels; well-stocked public libraries; theater and symphony orchestras that are state-subsidized but not state controlled; a public transport system that is cheap, clean, and punctual; paved roads that are a dream, with scarcely a pothole to be seen; many national parks; and a well-funded ecology programme that could convert the republic into a mecca for bird-watchers, and provide clean air and safe water.
Yet not everybody is for peace. The ancient Greeks looked upon war between their own city-states and between themselves and the “barbarians” as part of the order of nature. To Machivelli, war is necessary to survive. The German philosopher Hegel taught that people must accept war or stagnate. Another German philosopher, Nietzsche, was a representative of the romantic cult of war. He invented the word “superman” (Ubermensch) and, for the supermen he wanted to create, war is the superme witness to their superior quality; supermen should never descend to the “slave morality” of Christianity, with its accent on humility and turning the other cheek.
Not all Christian have been complete pacifists. Theologians like St Augustine approved of what they called a “just war”. In the Middle Ages, when the papacy had temporal as well as spiritual power, it also had military strength, and used it. With the advent of nationalism, people like St Thomas More in his Uthopia advocated a pragmatic idea of war to defend one’s land or allies. And Dante maintained that peace must be attained by the imposition of a world law – paradoxically, by war if necessary.
The seventeenth century, because of growing international commerce, saw the desirability of permanent peace. The eighteenth – century “Enlightenment” had as one of its tenets the law of the “eternal progress” of the human race, in which humanity would eventually secure peace. In the nineteenth century, movements toward peace became more prolific, even if as ineffective as ever.
In our own century, World War I convinced the human race that war is an absolute evil. The League of Nations was established, and after World War II the United Nations, in the belief that wars are permissible on behalf of the maintenance of world peace. World War II also introduced nuclear weaponry, giving the world a preview of possibilities to come. As for nuclear war, multiply by ten the combined atrocities of Attila the Hun, Tamburlaine, Genghis Khan, the barbarians of the Dark Ages, Stalin, and Hitler – and you won’t begin to match this crime against the human race. Reflection upon this has resulted in a greater obsession with peace.
In the face of these varying views and problems about peace, today’s liturgy is a breath of fresh air. In the Gospel Jesus sends seventy-two disciples “like lambs among wolves” (v. 3) to spread his message of peace – a reminder, that, when Moses was worn down with work, the Lord had him designate seventy-two elders to help him. We can’t identify Jesus’ group as laity, bishops, or presbyters. Whoever they were, their mission was to proclaim the Good News about Jesus.
That Good News, though, was tough and realistic. It included the truth that Jesus didn’t come to bring perfection to this world, and that we must not only be grateful for his salvation but must actually share it by carrying our responsibilities. Although we can’t offer instant solutions to all problems or suffering, Jesus’ Good News can alone provide true peace.
Realistically, the disciple must be able to live in accord with St Paul in today’s closing words of his letter to the Galatians. This is his only letter which lacks a “thanksgiving” section – the reason being that Paul was very angry when he wrote. He felt that he had absolutely nothing to thank the Galatians for. There remained the tension between him and the Jewish – Christian trouble – makers who, even though they believed that Jesus was the Messiah, were insisting that all Galatian Christians abide by Jewish religious law. To Paul this was blasphemy. As Paul discovered, peace isn’t easy. Yet he wished the Galatians peace.
Jesus tells us peace is subversive. His idea is that, if the world wants peace, the wolves must swap power for trust, manipulation for solidarity, greed for sharing. That isn’t a world that the wolves of war and violence can survive in. It makes them very angry, and vicious in their attack.
Jesus tells us through his emissaries that the kingdom of God “is at hand for you” (v. 9). The kingdom of God is “at hand” and “for you”. It is not up in the sky or across the sea, but right here with us whenever and wherever we want to call upon it. With our cooperation, God’s power can transform this world, with all its problems, into a place of peace and justice.
The characteristic quality of this kingdom, as pictured in today’s section of Isaiah, is the Hebrew shalom; salaam in other Semitic languages. This beautiful word is untranslatable, but peace is its dominant characteristic – and also harmony, joy, well-being in every sense, and prosperity (as it is translated today in Isaiah). Metaphysically, the “city of peace” – “Jerusalem” – can be whenever we are if we are a children of peace.
God’s kingdom already looks to a heavenly city on earth and, interestingly, Isaiah’s dominant images for this relationship between God and us are feminine – the child at the large, consoling breast of its mother and the mother comforting her children. The image suggests a privileged intimacy, a wondrous dependency, even a child’s first ecstasy – a nursing babe, arms outstretched and lost in speechless delight. Isaiah also proclaims that, if people cooperate, God will send peace flowing like a river though any landscape that is dry of it.
Jesus’ advice that one isn’t to greet anyone along the way isn’t to mean a cold unfriendliness, but a reminder that there is a seriousness and an urgency about seeking and spreading peace; we mustn’t indulge in distractions, but get on with the work. Jesus further advises that his missionaries for peace take no walking staff, travelling bag, or scandals – this to dramatize one’s willingness to trust in God’s providence. The person then becomes vulnerable, making it possible for God to work through our vulnerability. Jesus’ true disciples must have no bag of tricks, no dog-and-pony show (thus different from the hucksters of religion we see in the streets of that time and on TV today).
How we can find peace is contained in the words Dante put over the door to heaven: “In His will is our peace.” Peace, in the final analysis, means oneness with God’s will. The search for peace must begin with individuals like you and me, then radiate out – to family, community, nation, and world. In that process, we recognize the truth of the Chinese saying that “the first step is the longest.” Peace isn’t a given; it has to be continually worked for, and worked at.
If you haven’t found Jesus’ deep peace, take the first step – the long one – of praying for a heart to welcome it. When that is achieved, we have peace of soul, even in the world’s imperfection. May all of us free of discouragement, impatience, and anger in failure in our efforts for peace, and be sincere, humble, and wise in seeking it; peace-seeking and peace-making are the highest callings within civilization; in our daily lives we must reflect non-violence as a positive force. Let us repeat constantly the beautiful words Jesus advised: “Peace be to this household” (v. 5). Peace is our greeting, and peace is our mark. Peace is one of the signs of the presence of the kingdom. May God’s peace be in our hearts and in our homes.