instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A religion of peace

Do you ever think that Jesus could have expressed Himself with greater felicity when He said:
"Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword."
Someone (Mark Twain?) wrote a dialog in which Jesus explains this statement by saying, "I was misquoted." And who doesn't prefer the "Peace on Earth" message of Luke's infancy narrative to this business of swords and division?

Ah, but whatever our Christmas cards might say, the message of Luke's infancy narrative isn't, "Peace on Earth." It's, "On Earth peace to those on whom His favor rests." (Or, "on earth peace to men of good will," if you prefer the Douay-Rheims.)

Then there's the curious instruction Jesus gives His Apostles as He sends them out to the lost sheep of the house of Israel:
As you enter a house, wish it peace. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; if not, let your peace return to you.
This echoes Sunday's First Reading from Isaiah:
Thus says the LORD: 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 the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.
In imitation of their Master, the Apostles wish peace upon those they meet, but not all are worthy of it. The peace that returns from an unworthy house to an Apostle achieves its end, that of signifying the house's unworthiness.

St. Paul writes of the peace that surpasses all understanding, but again context matters:
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
It's the peace of God that guards the Christian -- if the Christian is worthy of that peace, and worth is proven by having no anxiety and praying and thanking God for everything.

Those who prefer to think Jesus was misquoted when He said He came to bring the sword will be obliged to think misquotes abound throughout the New Testament when it touches on the topic of peace.

The peace we should not think Jesus came to bring the world is peace as the world understands it: a sort of coincidental concord, perhaps, in which no one happens to be striving against another's personal interests. (Even further from His intention was to end all war, a political goal that requires a political solution (He'll handle that at the Second Coming).)