Summary: Christ's gift of the Holy Spirit will bring us to a full and complete peace if we are attentive to the movement of the Spirit within our lives.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
Since the beginning of time, humanity has craved peace! Peace of mind, peace of heart, peace among the nations. And this is precisely what Jesus is offering as he speaks to the disciples in this passage! The peculiar thing about peace is this; we are always striving after it, yearning for complete peace in our lives––yet peace rarely reigns in our hearts, minds, or lives. It is really pretty doubtful that the peace we so long for has ever really been there in the first place. The peace we crave is so foreign to our existence that, perhaps, the longing is more of a whim than it is a dream.
Historians and scientists have come up with some startling information about peace in human history. Since 3600 B.C. the world has known only 292 years of peace! During this period there have been 14,351 wars, large and small, in which 3.64 billion people have been killed. The value of the property destroyed would pay for a golden belt around the world 97.2 miles wide and 33 feet thick. Since 650 B.C. there have also been 1,656 arms races, only 16 of which have not ended in war. The remainder ended in the economic collapse of the countries involved.
Sometimes the very thing that we are looking for is covered up in our overzealous searching. Remarkably, or maybe not so, in the last 5,600 years the world may have known peace for only a little over 5% of the time. And the odds are, most of that 5% was probably filled with thoughts and plans for disturbing the peace. Ironically, it has probably been our misplaced longing for earthly peace that has kept us from really finding true peace. A longing for earthly peace has often proven the catalyst for the blooming of war because when we focus on the earthly, God takes second place. It is only the knowledge of the true peace, found in Christ Jesus, that gives us real peace. This is the peace that “passes all understanding,” the gift of the Holy Spirit, which puts our hearts and minds at peace 100% of the time.
So how do we experience such peace? How can we get back on track? Christ’s words in today’s gospel reading point us in the right direction, and it begins with the Holy Spirit, Christ’s gift to his disciples. But the Holy Spirit means nothing if our primary concern is for the things of this world. So we have to begin by focusing less on the world and focusing more on God. Because, you see, the world can never give a peace of the kind that Jesus offers. And once we decide we want to orient our lives to God and pursue more fully this peace offered by Christ, then we have to be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit. Christ didn’t just say to the disciples, “The Father will send the Holy Spirit in my name and you’ll know peace.” What Jesus says is that the Father will send the Holy Spirit, and this Advocate will teach us everything and remind us of everything Jesus has said to us! The Holy Spirit is the key.
The first assurance of peace through the Holy Spirit is the name that Jesus uses, Paraclete. It means comforter or counselor, our Advocate. When we become distraught or confused, the Advocate is the voice inside us that brings us peace and guidance in accordance with God’s will. But even beyond that, Jesus tells us the Holy Spirit will continue to teach us, just as Jesus has taught us. If we are to grow as Christians, then we have to be learners, students; and it is the Holy Spirit that leads us always deeper and deeper into the truth of God. We just have to keep our minds opened and focused, not allowing ourselves to be distracted by the things of this world.
And when we do perhaps become overly distracted by worldly matters, the Holy Spirit will remind us of all that Jesus has said. When our thoughts wander astray, the Holy Spirit brings us back to the Word of God, saving us from bad decisions or arrogance. We have all surely experienced something like this in life. We are tempted to do something wrong and are on the very brink of doing it, when back into our mind comes the saying of Jesus, the verse of a psalm, words of someone we love and admire, teaching we received when very young. In the moment of danger, these things flash into our minds; that is the work of the Holy Spirit. If we will be attentive to this work, then we will know true peace. Peace doesn’t come just from saying, “I believe in Christ.” Peace comes when we affirm our faith in Christ and then attend daily to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in every place in our lives, reminding us of all that Jesus said and teaching us where we have yet to grow. If we are faithful in this, then no experience of life can ever take from us the peace offered by Christ: no sorrow, no danger, no suffering can ever make it less. What an amazing gift Christ has given us!