This morning’s Gospel reading is Luke 10:1–12, 17–20:
At that time the Lord appointed seventy-two others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit. He said to them, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way. Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.’ If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you, for the laborer deserves his payment. Do not move about from one house to another. Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set before you, cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you.’ Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you, go out into the streets and say, ‘The dust of your town that clings to our feet, even that we shake off against you.’ Yet know this: the kingdom of God is at hand. I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom on that day than for that town.”
The seventy-two returned rejoicing, and said, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.” Jesus said, “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky. Behold, I have given you the power to ‘tread upon serpents’ and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”
Pax tecum*, et cum spirituo tuo. Peace be with you, and with your spirit. From the very beginning of Christian worship, peace has been the core of our faith — the peace and love of Christ as the salvation of the world. We are evangelists for the peace of Christ, and our Mass reminds us of this each Sunday. But what is this peace, and what are we to do to spread it?
We certainly have a grasp of what peace means in a more general sense — a space of time without conflict. That, however, is a rather limited version of peace, one borne of practicality than aspiration, even if we can glimpse the latter. Nations not at war can still be hardly described as “at peace”; the absence of armed conflict in eastern Europe during the Iron Curtain years could hardly have qualified as “peace” to the people who lived there, perhaps especially for the Christian faithful whose worship was suppressed for decades. For that matter, the entirety of Europe, which went without war for decades in the same Cold War period, may have been at peace in a technical sense, but the tension and acute danger of the era limited it strictly to a legalistic definition of peace.
But we do not need to think of peace as an issue of nations, or even communities. How many have peace even within their families? Conflicts arise, often borne out of unintentional affront, that can go on for years. Even arguments over how and where to celebrate holidays like Christmas — which celebrates the birth of the Prince of Peace — can rankle for years on end.
Needless to say, sometimes these conflicts are unavoidable, or the fault spread so far that it becomes almost impossible to unwind. In some cases, the only practical solution is separation. Even without open conflict, the resentments and grudges in families and among neighbors and friends bring us to a state of anxiety, distrust, anger, and the absence of true caritas love.
Each of today’s readings give us a glimpse of the peace of the Lord. In Isaiah 66, we see a radiant vision of the Jerusalem to come, the City of God which shall nourish all the faithful as a mother with her children. Isaiah prophesied this at a time when the kingdom was divided and just before the Assyrian exile of the northern kingdom of Israel. His words speak to “all you who were mourning over” Jerusalem, which would fall a century later. The Lord would eventually bring the faithful to a restored Jerusalem in which they would “find their comfort.” The Lord would comfort them “as a mother comforts her child.”
Paul writes of a somewhat different version of peace in his letter to the Galatians. All of the former anxieties had passed away, replaced with the joy of salvation through Christ.
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither does circumcision mean anything, nor does uncircumcision, but only a new creation. Peace and mercy be to all who follow this rule and to the Israel of God.
In today’s Gospel, we see this clearly expressed by Jesus in two ways. At the end, He expressly warns about rejoicing in power, but instead finding comfort in peace. “[D]o not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” The power to bring peace to others belongs to the Lord, not the Apostles or those who follow them. It is the peace itself that should be our goal — to live in the peace of the Trinitarian life, and to have our names written into that book.
First, though, Jesus teaches the disciples about the way to bring the peace of the Lord to others. Peace is not imposed, but chosen; the disciples do not stay where peace is not valued. Rather than fight and argue for people to accept this, the disciples instead are told to leave the community and warn them of their fate. Separation becomes a practical necessity for the moment. “Behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves,” Jesus says, with the clear instruction that they are to remain lambs. Still, the disciples leave with a final plea for these communities to repent, an act of caritas that holds the promise of eventual redemption.
Peace, as we see, is that caritas love expressed by the Lord for all of us, and to which we are each called to have for one another as children of God. It’s not just the absence of open conflict, whether that be war or flinging a piece of Christmas turkey at Uncle Jack’s head. Peace means putting anxiety and conflict aside and trusting in the Lord for justice and mercy, and sharing that peace with all of those in your life.
Note: Also, pax vobiscum.
The front-page image is a detail from “Christ Risen from Tomb,” c. 1490 from Ambrogio Borgognone, now on display at the National Gallery of Art.
“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here. For previous Green Room entries, click here.
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