OUR CONNECTION MATTERS
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”
(John 20:19, NIV)
As we read the story of the crucifixion and resurrection in the gospel of John, we find several times when Jesus came, stood among the disciples, and started the conversation with the words “Peace be with you.” The disciples had locked themselves away because they were afraid – afraid of what others might do to them, afraid of a future without Jesus.
We often interpret peace as the absence of conflict. As we consider Jesus’ words of greeting, perhaps we should consider that Jesus meant more than just an absence of conflict when he spoke these words after his resurrection and when he spoke the words of John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Perhaps he meant something deeper, wider, stronger, and more enduring than just an absence of conflict. Perhaps Jesus meant, “Don’t be afraid. Peace be with you so that you may offer that same peace to all people, including those of whom you are afraid.”
Perhaps Jesus meant shalom.
The Hebrew word shalom
is often translated into English as peace. Shalom means peace and a great deal more. Shalom means completeness, wholeness, fullness, safety of mind and body, and a willingness to offer all of that to others.
As a Christian, we often speak of peace. In our current denominational turbulence, I often hear people speak of wanting peace so that ministry can be done without distraction. This is their motivation for wanting to separate from those with whom they disagree. While it breaks my heart to say so because I am a life-long Methodist, I believe there’s merit in that thought. Our current fight over sexuality has been long, drawn out, and a distraction from our work of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
But I think we need to work for more than peace. I think we need to work for shalom.
Perhaps if we began to look for ways to offer completeness and wholeness to those with whom we disagree we all might accomplish more as witnesses to the presence of Christ in our lives and the lives of others who are with us in this present denominational conflict. Perhaps as we offer completeness and wholeness to others they will find it in their hearts to offer the same to us. The world will see an example of the love of Christ in the way we treat other Methodists and may be more interested in joining some expression of our faith because of that example of love.
It’s hard to think about offering shalom to someone with whom we disagree, especially if that someone has been less than kind in their words or treatment of us. It’s easy to say that others need to start offering shalom and demonstrate that they’re willing to do the hard work before we’re willing to start. But we’re not called to do the easy work. We’re called to be disciples of Jesus Christ, imitators of his life and love, and members of his body. Let’s put aside our disputes and disagreements and agree on two things. First, that Jesus Christ is Lord of all. And, second, that we will actively work for shalom as we live into what it means to say Christ is Lord. It is our responsibility as Christians to promote and actively seek shalom for all, not because we want calm and a lack of conflict, but because we want to imitate Christ in all that we say and do.
We are called to lead others to Christ. As we do that work, we trust that Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit, will do whatever work of transformation is needed. You can lead others to Jesus by imitating his graciousness and his desire for all to experience shalom while leaving transformation in the lives of others, or in your life, up to the one who knows a person’s heart better than anyone.
Dr. Nita Crump serves as Director of Connectional Ministries. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.