Peace, listening, and recognition

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” (Jn 14:27)

Jesus offers the disciples peace and adds that he gives peace in a different way than the world offers it. It’s interesting to reflect on what some of those differences might be.

Certainly one contrast between Jesus’s offer of peace and that of the world is that we find our world full of war, violence, racism, divisions within and among nations, and divisions in families. We could use more peace, in general. Still, Jesus’s words contrast the manner in which he and “the world” offer peace.

When the world ordinarily offers peace, it’s often full of conditions: one country ceases war with another so long as terms are reached of mutual agreement, or at least one country is bowed into submission. The terms of peace are only reached after a certain rational agreement that everyone shares the same views of justice—and this is one reason that peace is so hard to come by, because countries like Israel–Palestine, Ireland, Iraq, etc have such different narratives of the past and different visions of what is just or fair that finding shared ground is difficult.  Peace in interpersonal interactions and relationships also often falters because each party holds his or her own ground inflexibly, often to avoid being vulnerable to the truth of the other’s point of view. We see ourselves and our own point of view rather than really listening to what another is saying and letting it in.

Jesus’s words about peace come in the Last Supper Discourses where he reflects in advance on his own death. His is a peace that comes through self-gift and vulnerability. He offers his own life to others in order to offer peace and reconciliation to others. He experiences a vulnerability that leads even to his own suffering and death as a means of peace and reconciliation. He says that he can do this because his actions are all grounded in a love and obedience to the Father. His peace is a peace that originates from God and knowing that he is loved by God.

We have seen examples of peacemaking and justice building among public figures in the past such as King or Gandhi, whose methods of peacemaking included non-violent resistance and self-gift, and a willingness to suffer to bring others to the truth. We see this also in those who peacefully resist racism in Baltimore and Ferguson despite many barriers to recognition—especially in an age where media prefers to give attention to sensationalized violence instead of everyday acts of violence against black men, or to give attention to the looting of a CVS over the march of 10,000 peaceful protesters. Jesus’ words point to the origin of peacemaking to be in something deep and interior that provides energy for peace and for the building up of justice.

In interpersonal interactions, too, Jesus is advocating being grounded in God as the origin and energy for peace. We could contrast this to peacemaking that begins and ends only in getting to the “right,” mutually agreed upon terms. Peace requires mutual recognition, and here Jesus’s words suggest that mutual recognition—seeing one another as we truly are—is grounded in the love of God that recognizes the goodness and dignity of each person. When we are in conflict with one another, we have to draw upon the interior wellspring of being recognized and loved by God, so that we are non-defensive in how we listen to others and receive what they have to say. We have to be willing to be vulnerable with one another. Then we are better able to see each other, and to hear each other. Just as Jesus drew upon the love of the Father in how he interacted with others, we also are invited to draw on God’s love for us as the source and origin of our own peacemaking efforts.