Peace: Not as the World Gives

The gospel is the incredible celebration that the peace of Christ empowers our wellbeing in a world threatened by death and all of its friends.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. — John 14:27 (ESV)

Decades before Jesus uttered these words, Emperor Augustus established a period of unprecedented peace that lasted for two hundred years. Famously known as the Pax Romana (Latin “Roman peace”), this golden age enjoyed an enormous amount of prosperity throughout the Empire. The conquest of provinces increased tax revenues, which in turn made possible the construction of roads and the expansion of foreign trade. Rome’s economy boosted as landowners gained more land, and the building of towns and bridges created many job opportunities. To maintain socio-political and economic stability, the emperor enhanced border security, imparted citizenship to the colonized elites, extended religious freedom, and employed thousands of legionaries to maintain civic order through the application of the Roman law in every province. Thousands of temples served as hospitals to form a health system central to the development of modern medicine. It took an empire to accomplish these achievements, but it was aggressive enrichment and thirst for power that inspired the Pax Romana, not real peace. 

This is the context of Jesus’ statement, “My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.” But the promise is no comfort for those looking for an exemption from suffering, precisely because Jesus Himself is about to face His impending death (John 12:27). The same empire that guaranteed peace and prosperity enforced persecution and capital punishment on anyone regarded as a threat. My peace I give to you alongside “Not as the world gives encourages a distancing from the world and the way the world sees things. Jesus exposes the mistaken notion that peace is dependent on the absence of trouble, when in factin the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33) guarantees trouble. This peace is subversive, ending our fears, not our suffering. It means dying to the way the world lives. It is living through the vicious cycles of despair, even death, not without them.

What is promised is something beyond our capacity, liberating in its power, undisturbed by any circumstance, very different from what the Pax Romana offered Jesus’ contemporaries and what the Pax Americana could ever offer us. It shatters all our categories because it is not something of our own doing. The peace promised is the presence of God – the Holy Spirit (John 14:26).

What higher power could we have to make life possible during the COVID-19 pandemic? The same divine life-giving power that created the universe and defeated death in the resurrection of Jesus is available to embody and empower us. Without the Spirit’s company, Jesus’ imperatives “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” are beyond our reach. 

The gospel is the incredible celebration that the peace of Christ empowers our wellbeing in a world threatened by death and all of its friends.

Almighty God, 
You who calls creation into being, order out of chaos and life out of death, why are You calling us to contradict the way the world operates? Is it because we are to join Jesus on that way that goes from death to life? We stand in solidarity with Your invitation to an alternative existence. If the world wants to live for the things that perish, we would rather perish for the things that live. In this holy moment of repentance, we are back for more, for more of You and less of the world in us. Fill us with Your Holy Spirit for in You we live and have our being. Your presence and power, our peace. 

Beniamin Pascut, Ph.D.
Ministry Fellow at Brown University

 


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