Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe. I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me; but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us be on our way.”
In the Scriptures peace is always much more than a cessation of hostilities. It is a right relationship with God and with others – with others because with God. In this picture, there is no peace if there is no peace with God. But we often settle for less, calling it peace: if we are not actually fighting we say we are at peace. We always say that war “breaks out,” implying it was always there, dormant, within us, just waiting to cross over into action. Why not talk about peace breaking out? Of course it can only break out if it is first within us. But it is. “Peace I leave with you,” Jesus said, “My peace I give to you.”
The Jews of old (and still today) say, “Shalom!” – which means, “Peace!” This fine greeting too can become superficial unless we see some depth of God in it. It was not just a vague wish for the other person, “Don’t worry, be happy!” It was a prayer for full harmony with God – for salvation. Here is the original text in which Jews were told to greet and bless one another with ‘Peace’: “Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them, ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Numbers 6:22-26). This is a wonderful blessing, worth learning by heart, and using bravely on special occasions (instead of “Good luck!”). It is a prayer for “the peace that the world cannot give.”
An elderly German lady once asked me how we say “Grüß Gott!” in English. “We say, ‘Hello!’” I said. She looked at me in disbelief. “That is not a greeting!” she announced. “That is something one says at a microphone to see if it is working!” God has to be in our greetings, she said; otherwise they are nothing but empty words.
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