PARTING GIFT

When two Hebrew-speaking people greet each other, they say “Shalom aleichem” which means “Peace be with you.” When two Arabic-speakers give the same greeting, they say “Salaam aleichem.” Shalom/salaam refers to the state of integrity, harmony, serenity and completeness within a person’s life. Peace is not merely the absence of struggle but the abiding presence of calm.

In today’s gospel Jesus gives his disciples a parting gift, a gift that he says the world cannot give: peace. To have faith in Jesus and be possessed by the Holy Spirit means that we enjoy the peace of Christ.

Of course, in everyday talk, peace usually means the end of war (which often is not peace but simply truce) or the idea of peace and quiet, when we are not troubled and are allowed just to “chill out” or have a few moments to ourselves.

But the peace that Jesus offers us is that deep-down sense of well-being that comes from knowing that we are loved by God, have been called to be God’s children in baptism and are permanently held in the hand of a God who will never let us be lost, unless we absolutely insist on it. Christian peace brings calmness.

However, the peace we enjoy is not a static thing;  it’s something active and dynamic. Consequently we have to work at keeping this peace alive, which is what Jesus meant when he said “Blessed are the peacemakers”. We have to work with the Holy Spirit to keep our relationship with God alive and active and then we have to work for unity among ourselves so that the gift of peace may be a reality in our communities.

Some people can have a false sense of security. Others can have a false sense of peace. If our peace is just built on not being troubled by others, not having worries about our job, our family or our finances, then we are simply enjoying freedom from anxiety. If, however, our peace is built on our relationship with God, on our trust in his promises to us and the confidence that he always keeps his word, then we enjoy that peace of Christ which the world cannot give. And this is what we wish each other at every Mass when we turn to each other and say, “Peace be with you”.


SOMETHING COMPLETELY NEW


Often the closer we are to something, the less clearly we see it. We might go on holiday to a beautiful island paradise only to find that the locals take the sunshine, the palm trees and the gentle pace for granted. It’s not uncommon for Parisian or Roman taxi drivers to consider the Arc de Triomphe or the Colosseum as mere traffic islands to be negotiated with difficulty at rush hour. We tend not to appreciate the wonders around us when we see them every day.

The same can be true for Christians who live cheek by jowl with their faith. We can end up downsizing the importance of what we believe because we package it into sound-bites such as “God is love” or “Love your neighbour as yourself”. And if our faith and religion is reduced to maxims then it has to compete with all other political, commercial and recreational claims on our time and talent. And thus it becomes relativised.

So Christianity is in danger of being seen as just one way of spending our spare time, along with party politics, sport, caravanning, bird-watching or knitting. And we get sucked into thinking that tolerance demands of us that we make no greater claim for our faith than we do about our hobbies and our interests. After all, it would be indecent to make a lot of noise about our faith, wouldn’t it? Especially if faith is a private thing.

But Christians don’t think like that. We don’t consider our belief in Jesus Christ to be a take-it-or-leave-it affair. It’s not merely like being a member of a wine club or a social networking group. For Christians, faith in Jesus is massive; it is the single most important factor in our lives because it determines who we are and how we behave. To be a Christian is not simply a “nice” thing; it’s totally consuming because it informs every aspect of our living and breathing.

In today’s scripture God says, “Now I am making the whole of creation new”. The resurrection of Jesus changes everything. The old order is wiped away, death and evil have lost their power to keep us held captive, and we are offered a radically new and eternal life that has already begun now and that will come to fulfilment the other side of the grave. There is nothing “same-old” about our Christian faith. It’s something that can transform the whole of creation.

HEROIC FAILURES?

Someone once said that in a world where success is the benchmark, the Church is the only place where failure is not only tolerated but allowed.

Certainly this was true of Peter. Just a few weeks before today’s gospel he had denied three times that he knew Jesus. And now, in what seems like a mirror image of his betrayal, Jesus asks him three times if he loves him.

No doubt this probing made Peter feel uncomfortable but it ended with Jesus entrusting the future of his mission to the man who had let him down when it counted.

Consequently we often find it hard to forgive ourselves and this can lead to our taking a back-seat when it comes to using our talents and proclaiming the gospel. In a nutshell, we feel unworthy and retire into the background.

Today we see Jesus in a practical act of forgiveness. Because he forgave Peter, Peter himself was able to feel loved and valued and was able to forgive himself. Since no one can call themselves praiseworthy in God’s sight it is pointless to absent ourselves from God’s presence under the pretence of unworthiness.

God knows our inmost thoughts and desires. There is nothing we can hide. And yet God never gives up on us even when we are guilty of the most blatant betrayal. No matter how far we wander from God, God never abandons us but calls us back to the table of his love.

Today we see Jesus inviting the man who had denied him to come and have a breakfast of bread and grilled fish. We too have received the same invitation as Peter. For though we are sinners we are invited to the table of the Lord
and each time we eat and drink his body and blood our faults and failures are washed away and we are nourished by the very life of God.


SHALOM

After the tumultuous events of Holy Week, Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem and his subsequent trial and execution, where were the disciples? Not out on the streets preaching and teaching, not mounting a campaign to prove the innocence of the dead Jesus, but all huddled together in a rented room with the doors locked.

They were afraid. Perhaps they feared that the guards would come and look for them as they had done for their master. The gospel simply says the doors were locked “for fear of the Jews”. What Jesus says to them, when
like a ghost he appears in the locked room, is “Shalom”. They would have known this to be the usual greeting which people exchanged on meeting. Yet Jesus says to them a second time “Shalom”.

Shalom doesn’t simply mean “peace”. It means that deep-down feeling of health, prosperity, security and freedom. It is a positive thing rather than just the absence of disquiet. Shalom is that unshakeable sensation that we
are held in the palm of God’s hand and nothing can ever separate us from him.

When we feel afraid or disquieted it’s a comfort to know that even the disciples found it hard to be calm all the time. When we begin to doubt the substance of our faith, when we become discouraged and think we’re getting nowhere, Jesus has one simple word for us: “Shalom”. Faith in the risen Lord does not mean that everything becomes rosy, that we wander through life with no problems or concerns. You could argue that the more a person believes, the deeper the questions and doubts that arise. But what it does mean is that we are able to view the same realities from a different perspective, through a different lens.

The fact that Jesus is risen from the dead means that we no longer face things alone. We no longer are held in the grip of anxiety and fear.

Jesus rose not to abandon us but to be by our side. He is as present to us today as he was in that room with the disciples. And, whatever our fears are, his presence offers us Shalom.