The things that make for peace

Disciples praise his deeds of power and sing of peace; yet Jesus weeps. (Listen.)

Once upon a time, a baby was born. Angels announced it, and a heavenly host sang, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace to God’s people on earth!” (Luke 2:13). The little one grew in wisdom and stature, and soon enough taught the ways of peace: good news for the poor; release for the captives; recovery of sight for the blind; freedom for the oppressed; and cancellation of all debt (Luke 4:18).

People listened, and followed, and noticed his deeds of power. And in the place where the prophet Zechariah had foreseen a humble king riding on a donkey, a king who would rout all their enemies and send them packing, his disciples gathered with him and walked towards the debt-ridden, cross-encircled, oppressed and occupied city of Jerusalem, a city which longed for deliverance, a city which groaned for peace; and mirroring the words of the angels, a crowd of people sang, “Blessed is the king who comes in the Name of the Lord! Peace in heaven! And glory in highest heaven!” (Luke 19:38).

The angels sang of peace on earth; the people sang of peace in heaven: and all to the glory of highest heaven: the very throne room of God. This was a song of mutual hope and blessing so powerful, so viral, that all creation sang! For if they were silent, said Jesus, even the stones would shout!

They sung of a glorious peace: God’s peace. Not the bland peace of conflict-avoidance. Not the violently enforced Roman Peace. Instead, they sang of shalom: right relationship between God and people and land. Shalom: the integration of all things: a cosmic harmony. For in Jesus’ storyworld, everything is connected: God and people; heaven and earth; economic justice and the health of the land; and through Jesus, shalom flows from God through the whole cosmos: from the highest reaches of heaven down, down through the skies right down into sheep and shepherds and earth and stones; and so angels and people and even boulders sing. All creation hums with this promise of right relationship between heaven and earth, a promise fulfilled by the one who comes in God’s blessed Name.

So surely Jesus is singing and dancing, swept up in this cosmic celebration of love, healing and redemption: but instead, we are told that he stops. While his disciples are praising his deeds of power and raising their voices in song, he looks over the suffering city, and his heart cracks wide open: he weeps. And with tears in his eyes, he turns to his disciples and says, “If you, even you, had only recognized the things that make for peace!”

Wait a minute! They’re right there, aren’t they, praising his deeds of power, singing of peace, and joining in the cosmic parade? Haven’t they recognized the things which make for peace?

On the surface, it’s all very puzzling; so let’s zoom out.

In Luke chapter 9, we are told that Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem; then for the next ten chapters, he taught. He told parables about the kingdom. He preached. He commissioned; he debriefed; he explained; he exhorted; he encouraged; and he told many, many stories. In everything, he taught.

Through all this teaching, he revealed the promise at his birth: the way of peace. He showed that it’s all about trusting him, and only him: not our right theologies, not our moral behaviour, not our own efforts, and not our bank accounts. He called on his little flock to free themselves of their possessions and all false reliances, and he promised that in God’s kingdom they would have enough. He taught that the faithful can be rejected, and suffer, and die; and he located his own body among the marginalized poor. In stories such as the neighbourly Samaritan, he raised up hated enemies as righteous; and he repeatedly shared meals with all the wrong people, breaking bread, drinking wine, and revealing a culture in which everyone is welcome at the table and the greatest are those who serve. Through these and similar teachings, he showed his disciples how to live.

But as they are walking towards Jerusalem, his disciples seem to forget his teaching. Instead, they seek the destruction of a Samaritan village. They argue and jostle among themselves for high status in the kingdom of God. Outside Jericho, they try to block a blind man from receiving sight. And once they are in Jerusalem, rather like many observers of a certain mega-church today, they praise the awe-inspiring Temple, while the impoverished widows who gave everything for its construction and maintenance are completely invisible to them.

And as they walk and sing, his disciples are praising not his teaching, but his deeds of power: for perhaps they long for this power to crush their enemies and save them. The sort of power promised by Zechariah, whose humble king would lead an army to devour their enemies and “drink their blood like wine” (Zechariah 9:15-16). Perhaps now, even now, they still long for a triumphant military peace. A routing of the Romans. A renewed autonomy. Blood running through the streets.

And so Jesus weeps, because even his disciples have not internalized his teaching, and he sees where this will lead: Betrayal. Denial. Humiliation. Crucifixion. And some years later, the brutal destruction of the city and all of its inhabitants. So he weeps, and he says to those who are walking with him, “If you, even you, had only recognized the things that make for peace!”

You want deeds of power: but not my teaching.

You want financial security: but not kingdom economics.

You want love: but not for your enemies.

You want forgiveness: but not to forgive.

You want good news: but not for others.

You want shalom: but you will reject the fulfilment of God’s peace: indeed, you will reject me. And so disaster is coming, “because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” (Luke 19:44)

As people who lift their voices with the cosmic choir in the company of our weeping Saviour, I wonder: What blocks us from living by his teaching? Do we, too, want God’s peace, but not the uncomfortable person of Jesus? What are the many ways we betray and deny him, and undermine and avoid his teaching? And on the other side of denial and disaster, will we accept the sting of forgiveness, and his renewed words of peace, and commission, and blessing? Ω

A reflection on Luke 19:28-44 by Alison Sampson given to Sanctuary on 10 April 2022 (Year C Lent 6: Palm Sunday, extended selection) © Sanctuary 2022. Image shows Then He Wept, by Enrique Simonet.

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