We and the world need peace, but what kind of peace?

εὐαγγελίζω (euaggelizo)
“to announce the Good News of victory in battle”

“On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked,
where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them,
“Peace be with you (εἰρήνη ὑμῖν, eirene humin).”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again,
“Peace be with you (εἰρήνη ὑμῖν, eirene humin).
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”

θεωρέω (theoreo)
(“to perceive, discover, ponder a deeper meaning”)

What comes to mind when you hear the word peace? Tranquility? Calmness? A serene mind and ‘quiet’ stomach? Absence of conflict, violence and/or war? The list, no doubt, can go on and on and each word or phrase offers insight into a facet of peace. Both history and contemporary life suggest an elusive quality about peace – we appear to work for peace yet if it happens, it seems to vanish quickly. Even our bodies work for peace (biologically termed homeostasis) in which all bodily processes and operations are ‘standing with each other in balance.’ Yet here again, each of us knows well that such a balance is often temporary.

So what are we to make of Jesus’ address, “Peace be with you”?

As with any of Jesus’ words or action, we must begin any study firmly rooted in the world of His day. As a devout practicing Jewish man, Jesus knew His Tradition well particularly in voicing shalom (peace, εἰρήνη eirene in the Gospel) from the Torah and from the Psalms. Biblically, shalom is about “well being” particularly when it comes to the material necessities of life (cf. salvation from a Hebrew perspective: ‘land that is wide, broad and spacious: so wide, so broad and so spacious that it provides all needed resources to live life). Shalom described the condition wherein all the needed resources for life existed in balance: the right amount of farmable land, a sufficient quantity of food and a proper supply of safe drinking water. When all of these (and other) necessities existed AND existed in balance among each other for the good of living, the condition (or state-of-being) of shalom enveloped life. While a number of cultures in the Ancient Near East would have shared some of this understanding of shalom, the Hebrew people knew that such a condition existed only as God’s gift to them. While they knew there was work involved to bring about and maintain the condition of shalom, no amount of work could bring such a condition into existence if God did not first provide the necessary means for shalom.

With the passing of time, many in Israel viewed shalom in a more political way. Shalom embodied a more immediate concern of ‘absence of conflict,’ particularly with another country. Like many of her contemporaries, Israel knew that when she was not engaged in war with another, prosperity often grew and changed the landscape of life for the better. Yet many of the Prophets reminded Israel of her greater call to live the covenant with God-Who-Is-One. Prophetic shalom instructed Israel that while cessation of conflict is good, there is much more to God’s peace than a practical prosperity. A shalom ‘beyond this world’ soon linked with Israel’s Messianic hopes and dreams to the point that the Messiah would eventually be called ‘He-Who-is-our-shalom.’

In bestowing peace upon the disciples with His address to them, Jesus brings the disciples into a new realm or way of living. The breathing of the Holy Spirit onto and into them not only recalls the “mighty wind sweeping over the waters (Genesis)” at Creation’s birth, but signals an entirely new creation. Imbued with the Holy Spirit, the disciples are drawn more deeply into Trinitarian life and love resulting in being equipped with the necessities for mission, and also to live in a state of “well-being” that unleashes new life, new order, new beauty and new harmony of the Holy Spirit because Jesus is risen and sits now at the right hand of the Father!