Peace be to this house
Fourteenth Sunday of the Year. Fr David Sanders shows us how Jesus Christ’s mission is one of universal peace.
In the Gospels Jesus is waging a war. It is a battle between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. The final prize of victory will be peace. At the beginning of his ministry he extends his rule by healing illness and exorcising evil spirits. But Jesus wants us to collaborate in his mission. First he calls the Twelve to share in his work and today he extends that call to seventy two disciples who symbolise the nations of the world. They are sent to prepare the towns Jesus intends to visit. Jesus has already sown the seeds of the Kingdom by his preaching and knows there is a rich harvest. But he needs workers to help him reap it before it spoils. There is an urgency about his battle. The disciple must begin the work now.
But he has a warning. These peace campaigners will face bitter hostility. They will be lambs amongst wolves. What protection will they be given? Can they buy arms? No. Jesus’s strategy demands his disciples travel light – no money, no provisions, not even sandals. They will be defenceless because the peace they bring will depend on complete trust in God. In fact the disciples should have guessed Jesus would make this demand. Just before this call as they had entered Samaria on their way to Jerusalem, they had encountered hostility from its inhabitants. James and John, the Sons of Thunder, wanted to call down fire on them. But Jesus had rebuked them just as he would reject the offer of a sword at his arrest in Gethsemane.
He tells the disciples their first greeting on mission must be ‘Peace be to this house’. So what is this peace which the disciples bring? It sounds so impractical and ineffective in a world which is ruled by the mighty empires of the world. How can it compete with the peace brought by Caesar, the pax Romana? This peace was achieved by pacification, the brutal use ruthless military power. Caesar Augustus boasted that he had subjected the whole world to the imperium of the Roman people. Jesus knew, as Isaiah had before him, that his harvest of peace could only be reaped when they had hammered ‘their swords into ploughshares and their spears into sickles’.
Jesus brought peace by other means. And this is what Paul boasts of in the second reading. The peace which Jesus brought came through the cross. For it was through the cross that he subverted the idolatrous claims of empire by submitting willingly to the full force of Rome’s brutality. In his life of humble service and in his refusal to use violence Jesus had offered an alternative vision of peace. God recognised the truth of it when he raised him from the dead at the Resurrection. This was the victory which brought peace, the peace which is at the heart of God’s kingdom.
The Resurrection was the confirmation of Jesus’ call to mission not just because he had been raised from the dead but because his claim to be a universal saviour was vindicated. The risen Lord sent out his disciples to preach to all nations. He had already given them a mission strategy. In fact in the Acts of Apostles we see how the disciples put this strategy into practice. There is an urgency as Peter and Paul preach, heal, exorcise and claim that the kingdom of God is very near. They offer the peace of Christ, not by coercion but as a free gift. When it is refused we see how Paul and Barnabus obey Christ’s command for at Antioch we are told ‘they shook the dust from their feet in judgement against them.’
Mission is still an essential part of the Christian gospel. Jesus calls us to work in his harvest. There is just the same urgency. The details of the strategy may be updated but the need to offer Christ’s peace in a world ruled by modern and idolatrous forms of Pax Romana is just as great. We believe that in the Resurrection Satan did indeed fall from heaven and as we await for Christ to fully establish his rule he still tells us to travel light, trust alone in God and in his name say to those we greet “Peace be to this house”.