john davies
notes from a small curate

updated regularly
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    John 14 - Shalom for beginners

    Good Shepherd Morning Prayer 13/5/2007

    Acts 16.9-15, John 14.23-29

    Shalom aleichem (literally "peace be upon you"). This expression is used to greet others and is a Hebrew equivalent of "hello". The appropriate response to such a greeting is "upon you be peace" (aleichem shalom).

    Shalom aleichem: Aleichem shalom
    Peace be upon you: Upon you be peace

    Similar words are used in Arabic. On the eve of the Sabbath Jewish people have a custom of singing a song which is called Shalom aleichem, before they recite together the words of blessing of the Shabbat dinner (the Kiddush). [1]

    In the Gospels in the New Testament, Jesus often uses the greeting "Peace be unto you". He does it in today's Gospel reading - from John 14 - where he is preparing his disciples for his departure from them.

    "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."

    Jesus is in the middle of promising his followers "the Advocate, the Holy Spirit" as his replacement once he is taken away from them. When he is gone, Jesus is saying, what will remain with his followers will be his gift of peace to them, and that peace will free them from fear and in that peace the Holy Spirit will come who will empower and enable them to continue to live in Christ while also in the world, to be filled with God's Spirit with a foot in both kingdoms.

    Jesus uses the word "peace" five times in the Gospel of John.

    John 16:33 is used in a context similar to our gospel lesson for today, when he warns them of his departure from them but reminds them they will continue with Jesus' peace, even in his absence.

    The three references in John 20 are at Jesus' resurrection when he appears to the disciples and blesses them with the words, "Peace be with you".

    But what does Jesus mean by "peace"? With what is he blessing his disciples? What is he promising his disciples will keep with them once he has been "taken away" from them?

    First of all, let's talk for a minute or two about what we mean by peace.........

    Shalom aleichem: Aleichem shalom
    Peace be upon you: Upon you be peace

    To first century Jews including Jesus and his disciples, the word "peace" (in Hebrew, shalom) meant many different things.

    And in the bible Shalom has been translated into a lot of English words, as translators have tried to capture the various subtle meanings of the Hebrew or Greek word as it is used in different ways. In the Old Testament Shalom is translated with the English words weal, welfare, completeness, to cause to be at peace, to make peace, peace-offering, at rest, at ease, secure, safe, to finish well, to prosper, to be whole, to be perfect, to be victorious and, of course, peace. Likewise, the Greek word eirene is translated in the New Testament as unity, concord, to desire peace as well as peace.

    So shalom does not simply mean what the English word peace means.

    The English word is essentially a negative word - we tend to use it to describe the absence of something - we are at peace when there is no war, conflict or violence; we feel peaceful where there is no noise or busyness; we are at peace when our minds aren't troubled.

    We mean that peace is something that exists when there is no conflict. But it feels a bit neutral, a bit empty, a bit of a nothingness. The best example of this is when we say that people are at peace when they are dead.╩Using peace this way turns it into somethinmg lifeless. But the Hebrew word shalom goes far beyond that.

    Shalom can be used simply as a greeting or a wish to a friend or loved one ("Shalom to you, my friend"). But at its fullest, shalom captures the Hebrew vision of human society, the non-human world, the whole environment in a completeness - where "the wolf and the lamb shall feed together and the lion shall eat straw like the ox" (Isaiah 65:25). Shalom describes the hope of Israel and of the early church, its vision of what the world some day will be.

    So when Jesus used the word shalom, he was describing the world as God intended it to be. He was describing the Kingdom of God on earth and the way in which God's kingdom people - empowered by the Holy Spirit - would live.

    Jesus' shalom described the Kingdom of God where people lived justly as in the book of the prophet Micah who said,

    He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
    but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

    Jesus' shalom described the Kingdom of God where wealth was distributed fairly and poverty was eliminated as in the laws laid down by God in Deuteronomy:

    If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tight-fisted towards your needy neighbour. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be.
    Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, 'Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbour in your land.' (Deuteronomy 15:4-11)

    Jesus' shalom described the Kingdom of God whose occupants shared what they had together as in the early church described in the book of Acts:

    Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4:32-35)

    Jesus' shalom described the Kingdom of God whose occupants enjoyed an intimate and committed relationship with God and each other as when the Lord spoke to Moses, telling him and his priests to bless the Israelites in these wordsstill so familar to us:

    The Lord bless you and keep you;
    the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
    the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
    (Numbers 6:22-26)

    Jesus' shalom described the Kingdom of God whose occupants don't have, in the words of Paul, 'a righteousness of [their] own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.' (Philippians 3.9)

    Jesus' shalom is a word which describes the way that people are in the kingdom of God. Jesus' shalom describes his vision of the world as God intended it to be.

    And that is what Jesus is promising to the disciples after his departure - that with the help of the Holy Spirit we step inside the kingdom of God, and begin to embrace in our own lives Jesus' vision of the world as God intended it to be. The Spirit with us gives us the power to translate that vision into action; and that power will not depart from the church!

    Being in the kingdom of God makes us "peacemakers", "shalom-makers", with the immense power of Jesus at our disposal to play our part in transforming the world into the world as God created it to be.

    Shalom aleichem: Aleichem shalom
    Peace be upon you: Upon you be peace

    [1] Notes on Shalom from Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia
    [2] Sermon based on lectionary study notes from Partners in Urban Transformation