Peace I leave you, my Peace I give you
Anyone who belongs to a group of people under the leadership of a king will appreciate the fact that the life of those people depends entirely on their king. The king gives his people identity and if he is a good king, he guarantees the prosperity of his subjects. Christ, the King of the Universe is not a king of this world (John 18, 38) and thus, the peace He gives is not worldly, even if it has the potential of becoming a reality in the world. The celebration of the Solemnity of Christ the King on the last Sunday in the liturgical year, points to the One who crowns the year with peace and sets a new beginning for a journey of peace. The following article attempts to present the journey of this our King who has sown seeds of peace in His disciples‘ hearts. He is the rising sun that brings light into humanity’s darkness and guides peoples into the way of peace (see Lk 1, 78-79).
The king in a manger
The journey of Jesus, the anointed one of God, starts in the filthiest of all places. Since there was no place in all other decent places, the Son of God was born in a cattle kraal. “And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.“ (Lk 2, 6-7) This shows, right at the beginning of Jesus‘ life, that God is not ashamed of human brokenness. He descends so deep into those areas that humans would rather avoid. In this, we see God’s choice to be in solidarity with humanity. He is going to save and heal whatever he embraces. St. Gregory of Nazianzus expresses this fact clearly: “What has not been assumed has not been healed; it is what is united to his divinity that is saved” (Epistle 101).
St. Athanasius is known to have formulated a very provocative statement: “God became man that man might become God.“ (St. Athanasius, on incarnation) This means that the humans on earth should learn godly ways. Peace is one of them. In fact this is what the angels proclaim at the birth of the king: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Lk 2, 9). This proclamation can be turned to be: “The peace on earth among those loved by God manifests His glory.“ The king’s descent into human darkness is the root for human ascent into God’s reality and godly ways. The newly born king awakens the desire for peace in those who are searching for it. The story of the three wise men from the East in Matthew 2:1-12 describes this very clearly. Traditionally, the three are referred to as kings who, when they see the star of the newly born king, set out to look for him. The king attracts and directs sincere searchers to himself. The gifts that are presented to the king in the manger point to the uniqueness in this king. His identity is namely threefold: a king (symbolized by gold), a priest (incense) and a prophet (myrrh, this foretells the death of the prophet who must be killed because of being uncomfortable to systems). All who wish to work for peace must bow and worship this king of peace.
On the other hand, those who hate peace and instigate unrest are represented by Herold who felt that his power was threatened by the birth of Jesus. It is not surprising that the many “herods” in the history of humanity have been threatened by the efforts of many peace-lovers in the world. It is worth noting that the kingship of Christ has no end, whereas the power of the many “herods” has always had an end; for they all die away (see Lk 2:13-15).
The King teaches peace
Before he embarks on teaching, Jesus goes through temptations. The synoptic gospels (Matthew 4, 1-11, Mark 1, 12-13 and Luke 4, 1-13) present Jesus in the desert where he was put to the test before he started his public ministry. Fr. Richard Rohr OFM refers to these temptations as “the primal and universal temptations that all humans must face before they dare take on any kind of power. They are all temptations to the misuse of power for purposes less than God’s purpose” (Wondrous encounters, 2011). Jesus, the Human One, passes all the tests that have defeated other human beings in the course of history. He refuses to be used and be possessed by power. In this there is a lesson: unless those in authority truthfully face the “demons of power” in themselves, they end up being used and consequently abuse power. This is the power that many use to fortify their own kingdoms thereby forgetting that power belongs alone to God and those whom He chooses to empower in order to make His Kingdom a reality.
The central point of Jesus’ teaching is the Kingdom of God. This is God’s new vision for the world in which it is not so important who is right, but instead an invitation to live right relationships. We ought to acknowledge with all sincerity that the wars both small and great in our world have been caused by brokenness in relationships. The Kingdom of God, whose coming all Christians desire through the prayer of the “Our Father”, is mainly characterized by a living together as brothers and sisters, that is, children of the same Father. In the beatitudes, Jesus says clearly: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” (Mt 5, 9) In order to have true peace, we ought to embrace the teaching of Jesus and be ready for a radical change of heart. Whenever I pray: “May your kingdom come!” I ought to silently add: “May my own kingdom go!” This is because there is a tendency for every human being to establish his/her own kingdom which needs to be defended at all costs. Out of this attitude, many wars (small and big) have been fought.
Living the beatitudes is the Master’s prescription towards holiness. This holiness shouldn’t be postponed for the life to come. Our life here on earth is like a gestation period in which God’s Kingdom has a chance to become a reality when we are ready to practice the little we have understood. It was Frère Rogers of the Community of Taizé who encouraged the young people to “live what they have understood from the Gospel, however little it may be!” All the saints are living examples to us. They conformed their lives to Christ who let imperfect human beings partake in His own glory.
The king empowers his subjects
Behind the many wars humanity has experienced, there is the manifest desire to defend power or to come to power. The powerless are striving to claim their power and the powerful are using all means to maintain power. Power-sharing seems to be very strange to many of our political leaders. Power is often times used to make people powerless so that they can easily be manipulated.
Jesus is different. He is a king who shares his power by empowering all his subjects. In many cases, when Jesus forgives sins or heals, he restores the power and dignity of persons and gives them peace of heart (see Lk 5, 24; 7, 47-50). Sin separates people from one another and causes inner disintegration. Unless people are healed of the disintegrating and wounding power of sin, they will continue to break others.
All the engineers of war in the world are in dire need of healing. If this is not experienced, the structures and systems set up are destined to be instruments of destruction and will continue to cause unrest. Jesus is a teacher who believed in forming his followers so that they can do what he himself did and perhaps even greater things (see John 14, 12). He was happy to see his disciples progressing in their formation, for they were going to be his witnesses in the world. Jesus spoke this aware that he was going back to his father and that his friends were remaining in the world. This brings us to the recognition of what Jesus understood under true leadership. He himself gave the examples of being a servant-leader: But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” (Mt 20, 25-28). This is the legacy that Jesus left for his disciples to emulate.
The Leadership Mentor Dr. Myles Munroe invited leaders to look at Jesus’ style in order to learn what true leadership is: “The greatest act of leadership is what happens in your absence. If everything you have done dies with you, then you are a failure. True leadership is measured by what happens when you have died. True leaders don’t invest in buildings, they invest in people. Success without a successor is failure…True leaders make themselves unnecessary.” The formation that Jesus gave to His disciples guaranteed the continuation of his vision and mission in the world. Worldly leaders who think that everything depends on them are the cause of bloodshed in the world. These assume a kind of “kingship” that is, they have power that makes their subjects “objects” that can be manipulated according to their own convenience.
King and shepherd
The story of Israel’s kings started with the people’s rejection of Jahweh’s kingship, for they wanted to be like the other nations. He granted them their desire for a human king with a solemn warning: “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plough his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots.” (1 Sam 8, 11-12). This was a pre-programmation of wars between Israel and the other peoples. God never abandoned his people under the leadership of the kings.
David was not only a king but also a shepherd of the people: “You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and you shall be prince over Israel.” (2 Sam 5, 2) The prophet Ezekiel speaks about the shepherds who instead of feeding the sheep are feeding themselves. This forces God to take over the role of the shepherd himself (see Ez 34, 2-17).
In the person of Jesus, God undertakes the leadership of his flock. He is the good shepherd who is concerned about the life of his sheep and is ready to give up his life for the sheep (John 10, 10-11). If the world leaders would understand just a little bit of what Jesus does, more food would be produced for the hungry of the world than the weapons to defend their power and riches. We would witness fewer numbers of those leaving their home countries to migrate to others in search of safer havens.
The Cross is the King’s throne and cathedra
As he came closer to Jerusalem, the place for his rejection, condemnation and crucifixion, Jesus wept over the city: “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.“ (Lk 19, 42) The grief of God over the missed opportunity for peace leads the King himself to shed tears. Here, we encounter God who does respect people’s freedom to embrace or to refuse what God has to offer and decide to go after the inclinations of their hearts. God’s heart once grieved at seeing the escalation of evil (see Gen 6, 5-6). The journey which started in the manger finds its climax on the cross where humanity shows its utmost absurdity. What was supposed to be loved most is hated instead and done away with. The bringer of peace was nailed onto the cross. The perpetuators of this crucifixion were those who where threatened in their religious and political systems. Unfortunately, these are still present in the world and crucifixion is still going on.
At the Cross, Jesus lays bare both the problem and the way out of violence to lasting peace. The problem of humanity is that human beings in their brokenness break others. They look at each other in terms of “friends” and “enemies”. According to the logic of the world, the former (friends) are normally not authentic and the latter (enemies) are to be fought and dealt away with. The cross is, thus, a reminder of what human beings of all times are capable of. The crucified King, however, uses the same cross as a throne and a chair (cathedra) of a teacher. He is a king who loves his subjects to the extent of giving up his life for them. What he earlier on taught: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5, 44), he now demonstrates in his prayer: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing“ (Lk 23, 34). This is the king’s way of putting an end to vengeance and guaranteeing peace. It was as if he was saying: “Let the crucifixion end with me!” The cross, is thus an eloquent reminder to all those who are intent on fueling wars to stop.
The Church as a community of peacemakers in the world
The Church understands herself as a community of those who are following the crucified and risen Lord. The parting gift that He gave to his friends was peace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.” This peace doesn’t necessarily mean mere absence of war but as St. Pope John Paul II says, “the new name for peace is development”. This can be achieved if all are interested in “the common good for all humanity as our norm, instead of individual greed.”
All peace-seekers must be interested in globalizing solidarity; so that, believing in the bounty of God, people may be moved to share resources. This style of living will reduce the number of those forced to leave their home countries and migrate to others in search of better living conditions. And may those few, who will still be refugees somewhere, find acceptance and hospitality because there is enough for all if the hosts are ready to share. The followers of Christ will contribute to peace if they let their hearts be transformed by Jesus’ teaching. Peace initiatives can bear fruit only if they are undertaken by peaceful people. It is not oppositional energy that can move others to peace, but rather transformed hearts that are ready to suffer the persistent processes of dialogue. There are no short cuts to lasting peace. Pope St. John XIII, in his encyclical Pacem in Terris, Peace of earth (1963) stated clearly that “Peace between all the peoples must be based on truth, justice, love and freedom.”
These are characteristics that Christ teaches his followers. These must first be learned before they are taught to others. Before peace can come to the earth, it has to be rooted in hearts (pacem in cordibus). Together with all men and women of good will in the world, the Church can act as a bridge between waring nations in order to foster constructive dialogue.
The contribution of Christians to building a culture of peace will be visible if all accept the identity they embrace at baptism. We are anointed to become kings like Jesus and thus have power to do good and to resist evil in us and around us. We have the power to curb our greed and to control ourselves. We are anointed to become priests like Jesus so that we can nurture a love relationship with God and with our neighbor. We are anointed to become prophets like Jesus so that we can have the courage to raise our voice to speak truth to power.
The Spirit, that the Risen Lord gives (John 20, 19-23) empowers us to make the world a better place for all. When many small people in many small places with many small steps speak and act, they can change the face of the earth. The ultimate giver and guarantor of peace is Christ the King Himself. We ought to pray without ceasing: “Maranatha, Come Lord and bring us peace and teach us peace!” If this King is given a space where he can be born in people’s hearts, then it is Christmas.
The Author is a Comboni Missionary
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