“May the Peace of Christ Be with You” by Colleen O’Sullivan
In those days, some Jews from Antioch and Iconium arrived and won over the crowds. They stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples gathered around him, he got up and entered the city. On the following day, he left with Barnabas for Derbe. (Acts 14:19-20)
Jesus said to his disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27)
May grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. (2 Peter 1:2)
How quickly things change! Before today’s first reading, people mistake Paul and Barnabas for gods in Lystra because of the healing of a paralyzed man. But overnight, Jews from Antioch and Iconium wanted no part of the Christian message to turn up in Lystra to incite the people there against these two evangelists. The day ends with Paul stoned and dragged away for dead. It makes me wonder whether people in any age or place ever get tired of hatred and persecution.
Paul isn’t dead. He must not have been seriously injured because he picks himself up from the ground and later travels on to Derbe with Barnabas. Despite the turmoil and persecutions, the young Church is taking root. Now, some organizational structure is needed. After much prayer and fasting, by laying on of hands, the Apostles begin appointing presbyters or church elders from among the leaders of the young Christian communities.
I never cease to marvel at the courage and fortitude the first evangelists showed. They never forgot the Crucifixion. They had seen Stephen stoned to death. They had endured harsh opposition from some of the Jews in the places where they preached. And none of it stopped them. Like Paul in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, they just seemed to brush themselves off and go on.
What enabled them to do that? What is it that allows any of us to forge ahead amid adversity? How do we weather the crises of life? I look around the world and see the millions of grieving families left in the wake of COVID-19, and I wonder how so much sorrow can be borne.
For the answer, we turn to today’s Gospel reading from Jesus’ farewell discourse. Jesus is about to face great physical suffering and death. He looks around the table and knows that if his friends carry on his mission afterward as he hopes they will, they, too, will have to endure persecution and, in some instances, death. He wants to prepare them and give them a gift that will take root in their hearts and enable them to persevere no matter what might befall them.
Jesus looks at each of his friends and says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”
This is not peace that signifies the absence of war. It isn’t a promise of nothing but good things to come. It doesn’t mean we will never find ourselves afraid again. It isn’t any guarantee that there will never again be a reason for us to shed tears.
The peace of Christ is something that lives in the deepest recesses of our hearts. It’s the knowledge that we are God’s beloved son or daughter. It’s the promise that we are never alone; God is always with us. It’s the assurance that if we open our hearts to God, God will hear even our unspoken prayers and will guide us in the way to go. It’s the promise of eternal love and friendship.
This, I think, is what enabled the first Christians to do all they did. They may have been afraid at times. They may have been exhausted at others. But within them, they held this precious gift, the peace of Christ. They wanted the whole world to have this gift as well. They tried to keep their promise to their Forever Friend about spreading the Word and feeding the sheep. It doesn’t mean they weren’t sometimes discouraged, but the peace of Christ held within their hearts always gave them the courage to go on.
Sometimes I think we interpret Jesus’ words and promises only in the light of our lives here on earth when Jesus is talking on an eternal, cosmic level. Jesus doesn’t promise us a peace that means we will have no sorrows, no conflicts with others, etc. It’s more the peace of knowing that we are part of the Good Shepherd’s flock. We haven’t followed other, false shepherds. We are loved and will always be loved. Our names are engraved on the Father’s palm, and we will never be forgotten. We may stray, but the Good Shepherd will find us, offer us forgiveness, and bring us back to the flock again.
Maybe part of our prayer time today could be spent reflecting on what the peace of Christ means to each of us.