John 2:1-22; Jeremiah 8:4-12
(Preacher Najla Kassab – Director of the Christian Education Department in the NESSL).
A lawyer was duck hunting when he attempted to cross a fence into a field to retrieve a duck he had shot. A farmer suddenly pulled up in his pickup truck, jumped out, and asked what the lawyer was doing on his property.”Retrieving this duck that I just shot,” he answered.
“That duck is on my side of the fence, so now it’s mine,” replied the farmer. The lawyer said, “Don’t you know to whom you’re talking?”
“No,” answered the farmer. “I don’t know, and I don’t care.”
“I am a famous lawyer. And if you don’t let me get that duck, I can sue you for your farm, your truck, and everything else you own. I’ll leave you penniless on the street.”
“Well,” said the farmer, “in our village, the only law we go by is the three-kicks law.”
“Never heard of it.”
The farmer explained: “I get to kick you three times; and if you make it back to your feet and are able to kick me back three times, that duck is yours.”
The lawyer thought this over. “Fair enough,” he said.
So the farmer kicked him in the shin. As he was doubling over, the farmer kicked him in the face, and when he hit the ground, he kicked him hard in the ribs.
After several moments, the lawyer slowly made it back to his feet.
“All right, now it’s my turn.”
“Oh, that’s all right,” said the farmer. “You can have the duck.”
The story of the farmer and the lawyer depicts to a great extent the logic that is growing in the Middle East and the world today. Whoever can deliver the strongest kick and hurt the most will prevail.
With such a mentality growing, peace has become absolutely essential to the world. The endless story of continual anger from different sides has created in the Middle East and other places in the world a chain of violence that seems endless and does daily damage to people’s lives. In the midst of all this pain, the churches’ message of peace is called into question. Jesus’ numerous statements on peace in the New Testament come into question. What does Jesus mean when he says, “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” (Jn 14.27)? At first glance we feel we need to cry out Jeremiah’s words: “”Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jer 8.11). Jeremiah’s words that echoed once in the Middle East come back to challenge us. What do we really mean by peace? What do we proclaim when we end our services every Sunday with the passing of the peace, saying, “The peace of Christ be with you”?
What peace is Jesus talking about when all that is around us is far from peace? Certainly Jesus is not talking about peace that cannot be discerned. Jesus is not talking about peace to come in heaven only, but not on earth, for the angels and the heavenly host at Jesus’ birth cried, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace…” (Lk 2.14).
Probably a good way to explain Christ’s peace is to focus on Jesus’ ministry, especially as presented to us in the book of John (2.1-22), and to try to see how Jesus lived peace himself. John presents two images of Jesus that have become quite popular.
The first image is of Jesus attending a marriage at Cana in Galilee with his disciples (Jn 2.1-11). When the wine supply was exhausted, the mother of Jesus approached her son and informed him that there was no more wine. So Jesus asked the servant to fill the stone jars with water. Jesus miraculously turned the water to wine, and the joy of the party continued. This is a setting where many of us would like to imagine ourselves. In such a story we see Jesus as a person keeping the party going, sensitive to earthly needs, and making everyone happy. This is the Jesus that we admire, and we hope that he gives us a good lesson about peace. For peace according to Jesus in Cana is a peace that keeps us happy, satisfied, joyful, with abundance, without problems. If any small problem appears, like the shortage of wine in our story, Jesus intervenes to solve it miraculously. We have peace when we have enough to eat, drink, and be merry. This paradigm of peace often guides our thinking as we evaluate what is going on around us. We have peace when we are getting along well with people around us. We have peace when we manage to fit ourselves in well with the world. Then we relax and enjoy the beauty and serenity of the party in progress. This kind of peace moves us to relax and enjoy the glory of Jesus.
The second image of Jesus, placed almost side by side with his visit to Cana, is Jesus at the temple (Jn 2.13-22). Within a few lines, the scene of serenity changes. Jesus, the calm, helpful man of the party, became angry at those who were turning the temple into a marketplace. Making a whip of cords, he drove all those who were selling cattle, sheep, and doves, along with the money changers, out of the temple (Jn 2.13-16). The scene of Jesus making a whip, pouring out the coins, overturning the tables, and telling the people to get their wares out embarrasses us, and we hesitate to go with Jesus to the temple. We wonder: is this the same Jesus who was at Cana? We wonder: could this Jesus who is so angry have anything to teach us about peace? Probably many of us wonder what went wrong to make Jesus change so much. The scene in Jerusalem interrupts our serenity at Cana. Jesus at Cana seemed to encourage the party, while in Jerusalem he seems to spoil the situation. Jesus in Cana calmed things down, while in Jerusalem he shakes things up. Serenity turns to confusion. The one who solved problems seems to become a creator of problems. The same one who brought joy to all seems to bring trouble, too. It would appear very problematic to call the situation in Jerusalem peaceful.
Probably most of us would like to go with Jesus to Cana, but never to Jerusalem; we would like to go with him to the party, but never to places where we have to point out wrong behaviour or confront all that is against God’s will for the people. This is why many of us cannot see Jesus here as a peacemaker, but indeed he is. The peace of Jesus is in Jerusalem, too, but in a different way. Jesus was ready to confront those who worked against the will of God, to take risks, and to present a new meaning for people’s lives. Such peace includes a journey of pain that led Jesus to the cross. The peace of Christ is a peace that does not avoid confrontation; it is peace that certainly never enjoys pain, but rather confronts pain till God’s will on earth be done.
Understanding peace remains a challenge that the Gospel of John presents to us. It is as if John tells us that if we go with Jesus to the marriage at Cana for relaxation and joy, we must also go with Jesus to the temple for confrontation, pointing out all that damages the shalom of the people. Shalom is the wellbeing of the people, flowing out of God’s will for all to have “fullness of life”, all that is good. Living peace in the hope of achieving the shalom then guides our behaviour, both when we relax and enjoy peace, and when we get angry and do something to overcome evil and restore peace. As Christians we are called to hold firmly to both of the meanings of peace, the peace of Cana and the peace of Jerusalem. When one of us feels comfortable in one paradigm, he or she is asked to think of the other paradigm as well.
We Middle Easterners have lived for many years the peace of the temple where we are challenged to spell out clearly what the will of God is for the people. For quite a long time we have been put in situations that dehumanize people and leave them with no land, no nation, no dignity, and no future. For years the church has been challenged to speak out clearly against all abuses that people in this part of the world experience, whether Jews, Christians, or Muslims. The church is challenged to speak out to explain how Christ’s peace could work in the Middle East, a peace that the world does not give, a peace that grants shalom to all.
Some could misuse the anger of Jesus in Jerusalem to justify violence, but that is far from our Christian teaching. Rather Jesus’ enthusiasm for living out God’s will for God’s people moved him to stand for his beliefs and defend them with all that this commitment requires. Jesus was ready to get fully involved and pay the price.
Many times we avoid getting really involved because we want to stay in the Cana peace. We don’t want to spoil our party. Many times we feel comfortable in the situation and refuse to speak against unfair practices towards the people around us, whether it is the oppressed women in our churches and societies, or the marginalized and poor. We refuse to speak out against the wrong that our governments do towards other nations, or other races, or other religions.
The peace of Christ is not the absence of trouble but is rather the confidence that Jesus is there with us. The peace of Christ is a peace that invites us to speak up and do something about any unfair practices. It is a peace that strives to fulfil the will of God, even when this urges us to shake the serenity of things.
As a church in the Reformed tradition, we are rooted in a history of speaking up even when that means shaking the church as it now exists but building the real peace that Christ came to bring, a peace that is a step forward towards fulfilling God’s will on earth: the shalom, the good for all, the fullness of life for all.
Are we ready for that kind of peace where we can stand with Jesus and work to correct any practices that are contrary to God’s will for humanity?
The peace of Christ is a peace of serenity and of confrontation as well, a peace at Cana and even in Jerusalem.
The peace of Christ be with you.