During the Last Supper Jesus said to the apostles, “Peace I leave with you, my own peace I give you. A peace which the world cannot give, this is my gift to you. So do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” These are some of the loveliest words in the Gospel.
The Hebrew word for peace is shalom, a word very widely used in the Bible. 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 which the word signifies belongs only to God. When one possesses peace, one is in perfect communion with God.
Jesus is sometimes referred to as a “disturber of the
peace”. But the peace he disturbed was a false peace. Peace does not consist in
mere prosperity and well-being. An essential component of peace is
righteousness. So, where there is no righteousness, there is no genuine peace.
Peace is not just the absence of war or dissension. Nor is it simple harmony. 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, a peace which surpasses all human thought, cannot be created by human effort alone. It is a gift of God.
God desires the peace of those who serve him. God speaks peace to his people. In biblical times shalom was an ordinary greeting. But it was more than that. It was an expression of good wishes. Peace is one of the greatest gifts we can give to one another. But we can’t give it if we haven’t got it, just as we can’t give money to a beggar 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.
Jesus was able to offer peace to his apostles because he had it himself: “My own peace I give you.” Peace is communion with God. 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? The Christian has a vocation to peace. But often, alas, instead of giving peace to others, we inflict on them our own unrest and unhappiness.
When Jesus appeared to the apostles after the resurrection he didn’t blame them or even scold them for failing him. Instead, he broke through the closed doors of fear and doubt and spoke the words they desperately needed to hear. He said, “Peace be with you.” And by means of those lovely words he turned their despair into hope, and their sadness into joy.
Fortunate are we if we taste the peace of Jesus – the peace which passes all understanding, the peace which this world cannot give, a peace no one can take away from us, a peace which can exist in the midst of a troubled world, and even in the midst of unresolved problems. Peace is God’s gift to us, but it can also be our gift to one another.