Authentic Peace vs. False Peace
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: Luke 12:49-56
I think when a lot of us think about Jesus, our brains immediately jump to one of a few places. Maybe we think of him healing the sick. Or teaching by the sea. Or making a feast out of five loaves and two fishes. Probably a lot of us picture him on the cross, his love for the world greater than anything else. And some of us may picture the resurrected Jesus, wounds on his hands but a light and lightness about him.
Some of us might think of Jesus more personally, as Merle Haggard did.
And he walks with me and he talks with me
And he tells me I am his own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known
I have a feeling that when we think about Jesus, very few—if any—of us think about today’s gospel. “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided.”
There’s probably no Merle Haggard song about that.
But if we take our faith seriously, if we take Jesus seriously, then we can’t just toss it out, pretend that this isn’t part of who Jesus is, that this isn’t an important part of what he taught.
First off, let’s put this into context. Jesus says these words as he’s on the road to Jerusalem. And we all know that he’s not going there to make peace with Pontius Pilate. He’s not going so that he can negotiate a way for he and his followers to live in harmony with the Roman colonizers. He’s going to confront Pilate, to draw a line between human power and God’s power. He’s going to cause division. And he knows that at the end of that road is the cross.
“What stress I am under until it is completed!” he says in today’s gospel. I get it.
Conflict is stressful. Division is stressful. Tension is stressful.
No one likes to feel stressed. Not even Jesus. In Gethsemane, he BEGGED God to take it away.
But in the space of his desperate prayer for God to take away this situation that was causing him so much anguish, he comes to a different kind of peace. The kind of peace that knows what must be done in order to create God’s love on earth, to create authentic peace. “Not my will but yours be done.”
Because contrary to a very blunt reading of today’s gospel, Jesus is not anti-peace. We’re told in the very first chapter of Luke that “He will guide our feet into the way of peace.” “Peace be with you,” the resurrected Jesus tells the disciples in the final chapter. But Jesus brought and lived a very specific kind of peace.
Holocaust survivor Hannah Arendt wrote, “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”
She’s talking about the people who, in the face of injustice, in the face of oppression and harm to others, choose not to make waves, choose to agree to disagree, choose to preserve comfort—their own and the group’s—at the expense of someone else’s suffering. She’s talking about so many of her non-Jewish German neighbors who never made up their minds to be good, which allowed the people who had made up their minds to be evil to flourish.
That’s not peace. Or if it is, it’s what The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called a negative peace which he described as the absence of tension, in contrast to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.
Dr. King lived as Jesus lived: confrontationally. They both confronted the people who were causing harm, they both confronted the systems that created injustice. They both stood up in the face of “the way it’s always been” and said “there’s a more loving way.” Not with violence. Not even with animosity. They were simply brave. They believed in that more loving way, and they put their lives on the line for it.
That’s the kind of peace Jesus came to bring us. In today’s scripture, Jesus isn’t asking us to cause division for division’s sake. He’s asking us to be willing to get confrontational, to be brave, even to confront our own family, for the sake of that peace, that more loving way.
I keep thinking about how hard this call to peace—authentic peace—actually is. As humans, it's almost like we’re wired to avoid conflict. We’re taught in so many ways that conflict is so bad that it’s better to have a false peace, one where we ignore pain—our own or others’, than it is to tell the truth.
Creating deep and authentic peace in this world starts with ourselves. So I ask you:
How do you suppress your own pain to avoid conflict?
How do we suppress other people’s pain to keep the group comfortable?
In our families. In our community. In our church.
If we’re all not being ourselves, if we’re all ignoring our pain, in order to keep everyone comfortable, what kind of community are we?
St. Francis of Assisi famously wrote:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
He’s talking about positive peace, authentic peace, Jesus peace.
Because in order to become instruments of that kind of peace, we must ACKNOWLEDGE the hard things.
We have to name the hatred before we can sow love.
We have to acknowledge the injury before granting pardon.
We have to shed light on the doubt in order to move to faith.
We have to give attention to the despair before moving towards hope.
We have to admit that there is darkness before we can bring light.
We have to give voice to the sadness before we can turn to joy.
If we don’t acknowledge the hard things before turning to the lovely things, all we’re doing is creating a negative peace, a false peace. Jesus did not come to bring that kind of peace.
Jesus came to teach us how to be brave, how to confront those who would deny a more loving way, how to create authentic peace in our lives and in the world. May it be so.