Shalom Aleikhem

Dcn Tony van Vuuren
6th Sunday Of Easter Cycle C
5TH May 2013

We have just heard some of the most reassuring and encouraging words in John’s Gospel. We are still seated at the Last Supper and we have heard Jesus say to His Apostles, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

Christ is reassuring his followers that although he will soon, no longer be with them in this way; he will remain present to them and active among them, in the form of the Advocate (Counsellor), the Holy Spirit. And the power of the Spirit will keep them strong in their faith in him and in their knowledge of everything that he has taught them.

It is the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit that calms the troubled hearts of the disciples who cannot see the future without Jesus. This is the peace with which Jesus leaves them. Here peace is not just the absence of conflict or dissension, but rather the far deeper concept of shalom. The promised Holy Spirit will bring a peace that will conquer their fears of the unfolding darkness ahead.

The Hebrew word for peace is shalom. It is so rich in content that the English word ‘peace” conveys only a fraction of what it means. In general it conveys a sense of universal completeness, a condition in which nothing is lacking; the state of perfect well-being; of the person and the community. A greeting of every possible grace and blessing from God. When one possesses such peace, one is in perfect communion with God.

Peace does not exist in mere prosperity and well-being. An essential component of peace is righteousness. So, where there is no righteousness, there is no genuine peace.

Hence the saying; there is no peace for the wicked!

True peace is not the same as tranquility. Tranquility is external. Peace is essentially internal. Peace is a state of inner calm, and designates right relations with God and with others. Peace in this complete sense, in which the peace that Jesus gives is rooted in union with His Father; is a peace that is unbreakable; a peace which surpasses all human thought, and which cannot be created by human effort alone. It is a gift of God.

God desires the peace of those who serve him; and peace is one of the greatest gifts we can give to another. But we can’t give it if we haven’t got it ourselves; just as we can’t give a beggar money if our own pocket is empty. And we can’t give it to someone who doesn’t want it or who is unable to receive it. We can create the conditions where peace is able to take root, but we can’t impose peace.

The Last Supper seems a strange time for Jesus to talk about peace, because everything was in turmoil around him. His enemies were closing in on him and death was just around the corner. How then was he able to talk about peace?

Jesus was able to offer peace to his apostles because he had it himself; “My peace I give to you.”

Jesus is assuring them that the coming of the Holy Spirit will keep their relationship vibrant because the Holy Spirit will be the bond that holds them together in love with Him and His Father.

Peace is communion with God; and since Jesus is in perfect communion with God, he can give us the gift of peace. What other peace can we give but our own? As Christians we have a vocation to peace; but often, alas, instead of giving peace to others, we inflict on them our own unrest and unhappiness.

The difference between those of us who are of calm, peaceful disposition and those who always seem to lack peace of mind and tend to come across aggressive and troublesome, is not in the outer circumstances of our lives, but rather in our inner state of mind. We see the world and other people, not as they are, but as we are. Nothing is a greater obstacle to being on good terms with others than being ill at ease with oneself.

When Jesus appeared to the apostles after the resurrection he didn’t blame them or even reprimand them for failing him. Instead he broke through the closed doors of fear and doubt and spoke the words they so desperately needed to hear; “Peace be with you.” and by means of those beautiful reassuring words he turned their despair into hope, and their sadness to joy.

We don’t have Jesus’ physical presence with us the way the first disciples did who sat around the table, listening to his reassuring promises.  His farewell to them was a true farewell; a unique goodbye. We have to believe that he is present in a different way with us, through the Holy Spirit, God’s gift to us, just as Jesus promised.  If we can trust in the Spirit’s presence with us now, then we will have peace in whatever turmoil each one of us has to face. Easier said than done because this peace is not something we can manufacture for ourselves. Peace is God’s gift to us; but it can also be our gift to one another; a peace which can exist even in the midst of our unresolved problems.

The Risen Christ is with us at table today, just as he was with his disciples.  The meal we share is his life given for us.  It is also a “promise kept” for we celebrate the gift he promised—the Holy Spirit; and in two weeks time we celebrate the feast of Pentecost. This Spirit keeps his memory alive for us, not as reminiscence from the long-gone past, but as Christ’s living presence guiding and comforting us, just as he did for his original disciples.

SHALOM  ALEIKHEM! (May peace be with you!)

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