Gospel: John 14:23-29
Peace and Love
How are love and peace connected?
Okay. I admit it. I'm a child of late the 60's and early 70's. I was in high school during the war protests and the birth of so-called "underground" rock radio. I listened to Hendrix and wore tie-dyed shirts. I grew my hair long and had a (terrible) beard. And, at the time, I bought into the notion that my generation would change the world through peace and love.
Of course my generation did change the world. But the results were not what I expected. True peace and love did not reign. The morass my generation found only got worse. Indeed, in hindsight, the words "peace" and "love" were so overused and abused in those turbulent times, they are almost a caricature of those decades.
"Peace" and "Love" are high ideals. Where did the "hippie generation" fail? In John, Jesus gave us some answers.
Jesus told his followers:
23 If someone really loves me,
he will hold onto what I taught.
My Father will love him for that.
The Father and I will come
and live with him.
24 The person who doesn't love me
doesn't hold onto what I taught.
What I taught is not mine alone.
It comes from the Father
who sent me.
25 I told you this when I was with you.
26 But God's Guide, the Holy Spirit, will teach you
everything you need to know about me
and will remind you of everything I told you.
27 I leave you my peace. It's my gift to you.
I don't give you the kind of peace people give.
So, don't get upset!
Don't give up!
28 You already heard me tell you
'I am leaving you, but I will come back to you.'
If you already loved me, you be really happy
because I'm going back to the Father,
and because the Father is greater than me.
29 I've told you this before it happens,
so when it does happen, you'll have faith.
In John's gospel, Jesus spoke in small bites. The reader or listener could reflect on each bite and savor its meaning. In these passages, Jesus spoke of love, the gift of the Spirit, peace, and his absence.
Jesus told his disciples:
23 If someone loves me, he will keep my word.
My Father will love him.
We will come to him
and we will make a dwelling with him.
24 The one not loving me does not keep my words.
The word that you hear is not mine, but the Father's, the one who sent me.
14:23 "We will come to him and we will make a dwelling with him." This sentence used the imagery of hospitality to express spiritual union. The Father and the Son will come "toward" the beloved (using the image of travelers) and make their "room" along side the beloved (as a companion).
14:24 "but the Father's" This phrase can be translated as possession (the Father's word) or source ("word from the Father").
In this short gospel, Jesus began with the responsibility of love received. While love was given freely, receiving it required responsible action. Love could not be abused. It must be treated as a precious gift.
A Christian loved Jesus simply because Jesus loved him or her first. To truly receive the love of Jesus meant the Christian loved in return and demonstrated that love. To keep his words meant obedience to his teaching, as a student kept the teaching of a master. Living the love of Jesus opened the heart of the Christian to the gift of the spiritual union. The Father and the Son would live in the open heart of the follower as close companions.
Simply claiming to be a Christian was not enough.
25 These (things) I have spoken to you, remaining with
26 But the Guide, the Holy Spirit whom the Father sent in my name,
that (one) will teach you all (things)
and will remind you of all that [I] said to you.
14:25-26 "These (things) I have spoken to you . . . the Holy Spirit . . . that (one) will teach you all (things)" On the surface, Jesus seemed to imply the Holy Spirit would teach Christians more than he did. His teaching would be limited, while the Spirit would be universal. That understanding seemed to run counter to Jesus as the full revelation of the Father.
However, Jesus stressed the quality of the Spirit's revelation, not the quantity. The Spirit would lead Christians into a fuller understanding of revelation, not a different or new revelation. Indeed, the Church today reflects and grows in its understanding of divine revelation under the influence of the Spirit.
The Paraclete (the Divine Guide or Helper) would remind the disciples of all Jesus said and did. More important, the Spirit would remind Christians what it meant to follow Jesus. And to be Church. The Spirit reminded Christians the way to God's love: the words of Jesus.
27 Peace I leave you. My peace I give you.
Not just as the world gives do I give to you.
Do not let your heart be troubled.
Do not be a coward.
God's indwelling through the Spirit and the faithfulness of the believer results in peace, that deep calm in spite of troubles, that inner sense that everything in the world is right with God. Peace (Shalom) is a gift from God; since the Father lived in the Son, the Son can give this gift to his followers. Notice this sense of peace completely outstripped any sense of peace the world could offer. The world's peace was transitory. God's peace remained forever.
The peace of the world could turn against the believer. The contemporaries of Jesus lived in Pax Roma, the peace imposed upon the Mediterranean world. But that world exacted a steep price for peace. Roman peace was built upon ruthless oppression. Persecution was not surprising. In fact, anything that upset the social order was rejected. As a new movement that worshiped a king not from Rome and aspired to values different from those in the Empire, Christianity could expect trouble. In the face of that opposition, John, in the words of Jesus, reminded his audience that God's peace was true peace.
28 You heard that I said to you, 'I leave and I (will)
come (back) to you.'
If you (always) loved me, you had joy
because I journey to the Father,
because the Father is greater than I.
14:28 "If you (always) loved me, you had joy" John wrote as if Jesus addressed his audience directly. The main verb is in the past tense. John's audience rejoiced because Jesus went to the Father.
In the natural flow of the passage, however, the tense should not be in the past (a realized fact as John's audience experienced it) but in the subjunctive (indefinite time as Jesus' listeners heard it). Hence, we expect Jesus to say, "If you loved me, you would rejoice because I go to the Father." John played with verb tenses to show realized expectations. We rejoice Jesus ascended to the Father, because he sent us his Spirit.
Peace was meant to survive even those times when God seems distant. In those times, faith equaled perseverance, holding onto the word of Jesus. Even those times were meant for joy; spiritual distance meant that Jesus was one with the Father. Followers should not react to spiritual distance with anxiety but with a love that offered the best to God. When Christians offered Jesus and spiritual distance to the Father, they knew that the Spirit was with them. They no longer had the selfishness that resulted in turmoil, but the peace that came from self giving.
29 I have said this to you before it happens,
in order that you might believe when it does happen.
Jesus finished with a warning and a promise. Bad times and spiritual distance would occur. But his peace and love would remain. Christians should not be surprised they were not popular. Nor, should they worry Jesus had abandoned them, just because he lived with the Father.
The price of true peace comes from the perseverance of faith in the face of spiritual distance and persecution. What can we do today to persevere in the word of Jesus?
Where did the generation of peace and love fail? John's gospel inferred an answer. While the generation of the 60's and 70's were correct that love and peace should be freely given, they (and people like me) did not responsibly receive these gifts. The love and peace that came from the world were transitory; they could be taken for granted, ignored, and used for selfish ends. But the love and peace that came from God required a response that matched the gifts. As the love and peace from God were meant to be everlasting, the commitment to the One that gave the gifts should be total and unchanging. In other words, the gift and the response should share a sense of timelessness. Eternal gifts require eternal responses.
John's gospel also inferred another insight about peace and love. Both qualities do not exist in a vacuum, or stand on their own. Simply chanting the words did not (and do not) make them happen. Both required a relationship, a dependance upon another. To experience the peace and love of God, we must depend upon God. Totally. Completely.
Create a space and time for peace this week. Seek God's love and peace in prayer.