Summary: Peace is a sham without justice, mercy and love.
Sixth Sunday of Easter
Jesus says “peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” That is His gift of love to us. The Gospel message suggests that I ask you: “how many of you love Jesus?” Please raise your hands. [wait for show of hands] Good, because in the end that means “how many of you want to go to heaven?” If we don’t live and love in Jesus, we can’t spend eternity in the happy presence of God.
The challenge is that Jesus isn’t asking for a simple show of hands. He doesn’t say, “if you love me, raise your hand.” He says, rather starkly, “if a man or woman loves me, he will keep my word.” In the other Gospels, Jesus actually complains, “why do you say to me, Lord, Lord, and don’t do what I say?” Jesus tells us that if we don’t keep His commandment, His commandment to love God and love our neighbor, we don’t love Him. If you love me, follow me, is the constant call of Jesus. Moreover, Jesus implies that it is the condition we must fulfill if we are to live in peace.
Over the past forty or so years, it seems to me that the following of Christ, and the attainment of true peace, has become more and more difficult, because of the forces of secularization and selfishness. The culture tells us we’re tired of your ethics, if I feel like doing something, I have a right to do it. Worse, the problem of the early Church we see in the Acts of the Apostles persists. Men and women, even clergy, get in the papers and on television, preaching new and unsettling doctrines that lead us into vicious habits–disbelieving the virgin birth and physical resurrection of Christ, telling us that unnatural behavior is perfectly ok, justifying contraception and murdering our unborn children, and inhospitality to refugees and the poor. Rebels against pope and bishop, these PR-savvy fifth columnists make a career out of unsettling our minds. They rip apart the unity of the Body of Christ. Bloggers and podcasters on both the Christian right and left have made us suspect each other, cause us to wonder if the person being embraced at the exchange of peace is a “real” Christian.
It doesn’t seem fair, does it? Once I was ministering in another parish and a wonderful man of mature years gave me a little card with the slogan: Jesus says, don’t worry, I have everything under control. His intentions are splendid, but, with all due respect, those words are not quite right. In this sin-disabled world, where hurricanes destroy lives and homes and evil, demented men with automatic weapons and pornography destroy what nature leaves intact, we know that is an unfulfillable dream. Jesus doesn’t have a joystick in His hand to guarantee victory in every battle or press “start new game” when we get in mortal peril. We don’t need a controller. What we need is a Redeemer, a Healer. And that is exactly the specialty of the Risen Jesus Christ. When human systems fail, when men and women lie and cheat and steal and commit mayhem, Jesus redeems. Jesus heals. He doesn’t master the human condition from the outside like some divine puppet master, he transforms human beings and societies from within, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Risen Christ gives us hope. Hope is the virtue that makes us confident that if we do our part in the baptismal-Eucharistic covenant, God will do His part. If we do love Christ and follow his commandments, and confess our sins and repent of them when we fail, He will make us a part of the holy city Jerusalem, the real Jerusalem for Christ-centered Gentile and Jew alike, the Jerusalem that needs no sun nor moon because it is lighted by Jesus, the Lamb of God. If we as individuals and as a community turn our backs on sin and injustice, if we clothe the naked and house the homeless, feed the hungry and instruct the ignorant, if we welcome the stranger and pray for the living and the dead, we will be rescued from this world of sin, this culture of death. That is the core meaning of all these altar roses. Our death-obsessed culture is not the ultimate destiny of man. Our end and our purpose is union with the eternal, life-giving God.
Today’s psalm gives us a clue as to how to build up the virtue of hope. All virtue is spiritual muscle. Now no muscle, physical or spiritual, will be strong if we do not exercise it. So we must exercise our virtue of hope. The psalm says Let the peoples praise you, O God, let all the peoples praise you. St. Paul teaches us the three-step exercise, the isometric drill that toughens our hope muscle: do good, avoid evil, and praise God in everything. That means you take tests honestly, and when you pass the test, or when you fail the test, praise God. When the diagnosis is benign, or the diagnosis is malignant, praise God. When the girlfriend you have honorably courted says “yes I’ll marry you,” or she says “No, I won’t,” give him glory. No matter what, do the right thing and praise God. Even when God seems to let you down. One of the prophetic songs is pretty clear–the flocks may disappear, and the crops fail, the locusts may come, and the evildoer thrive, but, no matter what comes, we must still glory in and give praise to the Most High God. The Supreme Court may stop the baby-killers or they may not, but we will continue to pray for justice and give praise to our Lord. Remember the story of Ananiah, Azariah and Mishael, who were kidnaped and dragged to Babylon and even renamed after the false gods of that place. On the worst day of their lives, in immanent danger of execution, these three young men said to the threatening king, “God may save us from your white-hot furnace, or he may not, but whether he does or no, we will not bow down and worship your false god.” And in the fiery furnace, they lifted their hands and glorified God.