Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Gift of Peace

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

This is one of my favorite Bible passages. Jesus is giving final instructions to his disciples the night before he is arrested and lead to his death. He is reminding them that he will die and come back, and he knows they are going to face some rough days ahead.

This verse is in the Gospel reading this coming Sunday, and we talked about it in Bible study this week. When I told our group this is a meaningful verse for me, Fr. Charlie asked me why. The reason isn't so much that Jesus is giving peace, an inner peace that heals and gives us strength, it's that he gives it NOT AS THE WORLD GIVES.

That passage gets me. When I think about how the world gives, a lot of things come to mind. There are presents, like the Tiffany boxes above, that we expect on special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, holidays. But Jesus gives his gift of peace at a time when the disciples are not really ready for it. They have had an interesting night of having their feet washed by their leader, been told that people in their own group will deny they know Jesus and even turn against him. I'm not sure they're in the best mind-set for this gift, as much as they may need it. Are we ready to accept the peace Jesus gives us, that w3e already have inside at the times we need it most?

Then there are the gifts that are given with the expectation of reciprocation. My mom wouldn't let me accept expensive gifts from boys when I was in high school. She had good reason for that. Sometimes it happens at work when someone "helps" take a shift or work on a project with the understanding that the help will mean a day off later. But Jesus didn't expect his followers, or any of us, to give him something in return. What could they, or we, possibly give in return?

There are also the supposed gifts that we have to give back. Emily Post tells all brides who don't go through with their weddings that they should return the ring and any gifts, unless the ring was given as a birthday or holiday gift, but even then, it's tacky to keep it. There are the uncomfortable times we might be given something that we thought was  gift, only to be asked to return it. Jesus' peace is always with us; there's no way to return it, and I don't think he'd want it back.

Probably the biggest way I see what are called "gifts" in our modern world is in the area of commerce. We get money for work, give that money in exchange for food and clothes and DVDs and phone service. We get discounts for being loyal shoppers, or for being thrifty. Even some of the items we pay for are like gifts. My massage therapist's work on my shoulders is a gift, but I pay her. "Nothing in life is free," is a cliche, but it rings true in our world. But that is exactly what Jesus meant when he said NOT AS THE WORLD GIVES. There is no exchange here. No amount of money, or work, or volunteering, or anything, will buy this peace. There is nothing we can exchange for it.

It's hard to wrap my head around this verse. "My peace I give to you; my peace I leave with you." This isn't just any peace. It's not a greeting from Sunday services. It's not a wave of two fingers, or a circle with a bird foot thingy in it. It's not an image or a word at all. It is an all-encompassing feeling of inner wellness and calm and love. It's Jesus' presence in our very selves. He gave it to us. He left it in safekeeping with us.

He doesn't expect anything in return. There is no blushing and saying, "Oh you shouldn't have. I can't accept this." It's not returnable, and not exchangeable. It's already in us. It's the right size. It's the perfect color. It may not be wrapped up, but sometimes we have to look for it a little, like its hidden. But it's there. All we have to do is open ourselves to it. We are part of the gift, after all.

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