instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

V. Pax vobiscum.
R. Right back at you.

Hernan puzzles over a couple of verses from Sunday's Gospel that has always rolled right past me:
"Into whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this household.' If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you."
Hernan muses:
What is the sense of the warning, "but if the house is not worthy, your peace will return to you", like calming the disciples so that they do not fear to waste it, as if peace were a thing one could lose when giving it? ...

A possible answer came to me now. Indeed, because when "giving peace" we are not giving a material thing, because peace is one of those goods that can only be increased when shared: it was not necessary to give to warnings or consolations for the successful case (to give peace and that the other receives it). It is clear that in this case we do not lose peace, but that we gained it. Yes perhaps for the failures: because it is then when we felt that the peace got "lost" .... But it sounds a little too spiritual to me, a little rationalist even; and that does not line up absolutely with the literal text (Jesus speech of peace that "goes" and that "returns").
I certainly can't speak for how the disciples understood Jesus' words. For me, they call to mind the words of Isaiah:
For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to him who sows and bread to him who eats, so shall My Word be that goes forth from My Mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but shall do My will, achieving the end for which I sent it.
In a sense, the disciples' blessing is a sacrament, a verbal sign that effects what it signifies: the conferral of peace upon a household. But what if the household is not worthy, or those who live there are not peaceful? Then they refuse the grace and peace is not conferred upon them.

Jesus is explicit, though, that this is the nature of this "sacrament" of peace. It is a gift that can be refused, but the refusal in no way debases the gift. Nor does it return to the disciples void; it serves as a condemnation of those who refuse, and "it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment" than for them.