Peace be with you!
What did you notice about the choice of readings for today’s Gospel and that of last Sunday? Any observant Catholic may easily question the appropriateness of these passages for this season. Just like last Sunday, the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel passage were spoken on Holy Thursday at the Last Supper. An observant and inquisitive Catholic may wonder, “Church, what’s happening here? Are we not in Easter Season? Why take us back to Holy Thursday? Can we not just get over that and move on?” Before we go too far with the questions, it is essential to remember that Jesus was saying these words as his last will or last testament to his apostles. A person’s last will does not become effective until after the person passes away. It is at that point that those left behind go to find out what the one who passed away willed about the people and the things left behind. Similarly, Jesus willed these words before his passion, death, and resurrection, but it is after he left that those left behind are now going back to interpret his will.
Last Sunday, we focused on how he willed love to his followers, he said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” This Sunday, we focus on how he willed peace to his followers, he said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” The words in a person’s will are all significant; there is no room for frivolous words. Jesus willed peace to his followers because he knows how important peace is for our well-being. Every human being seeks peace. You may want to argue that there are people who do not want peace. You may ask: What about the terrorists? What about that co-worker of mine who is always causing trouble at work? I will tell you that they are also searching for peace. Unfortunately, they are searching in the wrong places and wrong ways.
Jesus said the peace he is giving to us is that which the world cannot give to us. That explains the frustration we experience in our various longings for things and the insatiability of human wants. We want to acquire more academic qualifications to have peace, but the more we do, the more the peace eludes us; we want to acquire more friends, more money, more fame, and we still don’t get the peace. The problem is that we replace the source with the channel. God is the source of true peace, God can use any of these channels to give us peace and fulfillment, but when we get these channels unconnected to the source, we end up in frustration.
When Jesus said, the world “cannot give” us this peace; one implication is that the world cannot take this peace away from us. That is why the world may try to strip us of all the channels of getting this peace, but since God is the source, the world is unable to take the peace away from us. We see this well in the life of Jesus. He fed five thousand (an impressive number of friends to have on Facebook or followers on tweeter), but as T. F. Tenney noted, “after the lunch, only 500 followed him,” yet Jesus held his peace. At the last supper, Jesus fed 12, before the end of the supper, one of them was already betraying him. At the end of the supper, only 3 followed him to the garden to pray; and at the foot of the cross, only one remained. They stripped him of almost all his friends (you may say, virtually all his Facebook friends unfriended him, and some blocked him), yet Jesus held his peace. They stripped him of his garment, and they were already taking his life, he kept his peace and prayed for his executioners. That is the kind of peace he is talking about here. You have it, and the world cannot take it from you.
Bishop Robert Barron shares two other related stories in his talk about “turning the other cheek.” The first is about Mother Theresa of Calcutta. One day, she went to a bakery to beg for bread for the children in the orphanage. The baker, who was not happy with what Mother Theresa was doing, spat on her face, and refused to give her bread. Calmly and peacefully, with her handkerchief, she wiped the spit from her face and said to the baker, “Okay, that was for me. Now, what about the bread for the orphans?” The baker, ashamed of what just happened, gave her the bread. The other story is about Archbishop Desmond Tutu (A black South African Anglican clergyman). One day, he was about to cross a small bridge, and on the other side, coming in the opposite direction, was a well-known white racist. The white man said to the Black Archbishop, “Step aside, I don’t make way for gorillas.” Desmond Tutu then stepped aside, motioned for the man to continue, then calmly, and peacefully he said, “I do.” When you have this peace, no one can take it away from you.
This peace also requires sacrifice. We sometimes must let go of many things that seem dear to us to keep this peace. In the first reading, the apostles and some other Jewish Christians had to let go of some of their precious traditions to welcome gentile Christians and keep the peace of Christianity. Sometimes, we need to let go of some people and some things to discover this peace. I once read a quote that said, “I appreciate those who abandoned me when I needed them the most; it was as a result of that that I was able to discover that I could do it myself with the help of God; your presence did not let me see the real source of my strength and peace.”
The peace Jesus talked about is no longer a promise; it is now in us. Do not go complaining that your husband, wife, children, co-worker, etc. are not giving you peace. We already have it in us. We run into frustration when we go seeking it outside. Like St. Francis, let us not go seeking, let us discover what we have in us and share with the world that desperately needs peace. My dearly beloved in Christ, you have left everything to be with the Lord at this Mass. That tells me how much you need this peace. May you find that peace today and never lose it until we come to our heavenly inheritance, through Christ our Lord. Amen.