"Peace I leave with you," is what Jesus tells us at this time of reflection and celebration, and when we are also searching for why Jesus is calling us. "I do not give to you (that peace) as the world gives," Jesus tells us. "Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (John 14:27)
It is with a conviction of what that peace means, but also in search of that peace, that we gather this afternoon on the eve of a Disciples of Christ General Assembly:
Some of us, assuming that all our debts have been paid, and that we do not owe anything to anyone; and some of us, perhaps, weary and burdened (like the Bible says in Matthew 11:28) as a result of carrying a heavy yoke for many years and anxious of finding a place of true rest.
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you," . . . Jesus tells us again with a very soft voice this afternoon, not as it pleases you or the way it satisfies you, . . . but the peace that I am the only one capable of giving you:
– peace that is a fruit of the spirit . . .
– peace that is a twin sister of love, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." (Galatians 5:22-23)
It does not matter how heavy or light our yoke may be. It does not matter which battle we come from, or whether we carry medals or just deep scars from that battle; whether we see ourselves as "conquistadores" or among the victims; or whether we consider ourselves victorious or destroyed. The reality is that, at the peace table where Jesus requires our presence this afternoon, the criteria for peace is not determined by our capacity to kill, destroy, hate, or take revenge, but rather it is determined by our potential to love, to forgive and be forgiven.
As we get ready for this Pre-Assembly gathering, Jesus Christ reminds us of a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.
"And as he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children, and all that he had, be sold to repay the debt.
The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go.
But when the servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him one hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!,’ he demanded.
His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.
When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I cancelled all the debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you’? In anger, his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured until he should pay back all he owed. (Matthew 18:36)
"Peace I leave with you," another King is telling each of us today. "I do not give to you as the United Nations gives; I do not give to you the peace that is just a result of a treaty between victorious and defeated people, or that peace produced by a court sentence or a judgment.
"Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." The peace that this afternoon requires our total commitment and our signature is not a peace which comes from abroad, already spelled out and digested, but peace that is born from an intimate and healthy relationship with our God. It is peace that is born within our the heart ; within that same place where, when there is no peace, "come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander, and all those things which make us unclean and also make us contaminate God’s children and God’s creation. (Matthew 15:17-20)
The peace that this afternoon is demanding our signature and our commitment is one that disturbs the "peace that the world gives;" it is the type of peace that is illogical; one we cannot understand or that may be offensive to us because, according to the laws of this world, we may be losers.
"My peace I leave to you. I do not give to you as the world gives". I do not give to you peace that is just the absence of war. I do not give to you peace that emerges after our enemies are killed, but peace that is the fruit of the Spirit and our understanding of who Jesus Christ is, as our true liberator and reconciliator.
It is precisely the construction, or the discovery, and the proclamation of that peace which convenes us this afternoon, in the eve of another General Assembly. And it is the search for that type of peace which is requiring the signature and seal of commitment from each of us:
– peace that is capable of making us love our enemies, bless those who curse us and persecute us (Matthew 5:44), and those who make us destitute, abandon us and make us lose power and prestige.
– peace that is not neutral, neither generic, but peace that is born when we decide to forgive those who are our debtors, not because we want to be nice or merciful, but because someone (our King, the King of our lives) has already cancelled our debt and let us go.
– peace that demands prophetic courage, even when it may cost us to lose our life.
– peace that illuminates the way for us in the wilderness, and that leads us to be obedient even when we may not be sure where we are going, but trusting and hoping to find, and "looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God," (Hebrews 11:10)
– peace that is a scandal, foolishness, "locura" we say in Spanish, to those who are perishing.
It is that peace, the one that Jesus is calling us to pursue as Christians and as part of the body of Christ:
– peace that God’s children await for, hunger for and thirst for everywhere;
– peace that, beginning within the life and the spirituality of the Church, we urgently need to pursue especially because, even though our terrible debt has been cancelled, we have not yet learned to forgive (not even to refinance) the debt of our brothers and our sisters, the debt of our neighbors, the debt of our church colleagues, or even the debt of the members of our family.
This afternoon, while we meet here, there is hunger, acute hunger for peace, hunger for love, hunger for hope in this world: the type of peace, love and hope capable of producing in us the courage to declare, as the Guatemalan poet, Julia Esquivel, affirmed amidst the repression afflicted upon her people for decades by an horrendous military regime:
I am no longer afraid of death,
I know well its dark and cold corridors leading to life.
I am afraid rather of that life which does not come out of death, which cramps our hands and retards our march.
I am afraid of my fear and even more of the fear of others, who do not know where they are going, who continue clinging to what they consider to be life, which we know to be death!
I live each day to kill death; I die each day to beget life, and in this dying unto death, I die a thousand times and am reborn another thousand through that love from my people, which nourishes hope!
(Julia Esquivel, written in exile from Guatemala)
For that kind of peace, there is no law that may limit it; . . . for that kind of peace there are no restrictions to condition it; . . . and for the construction of that peace, you cannot be a pacifist.
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid."
"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust God, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."