By Ginny Schaeffer, director of the Angela Merici Center for Spirituality
…love one another as I love you.John 15:12, 14:27, 15:11
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.
I have told you these things so that my joy might
be in you and your joy might be wholly mature.
Jesus was not blind or stupid. Unlike the religious leaders he once busted for not being able to read the signs of the time, Jesus sees the horrific storm that is about to break over him. He has become too popular with the people. He has evaded the traps set by the Pharisees and embarrassed them for the last time. He has become too much of a threat to their authority and what little power they believe they had. The High Priest even talked himself, and the others, into believing that Jesus must die to save Israel.
Jesus must also have been certain about how he would die. The Jews did not have the authority to execute anyone. They had to go to the Romans. Too many times, as he entered a town or city, he had witnessed the horrors of crucifixion. The Romans wanted to make sure everyone knew the fate of whoever crossed them; so, they would line the roadways with those they crucified for everyone to see and hear their cries for mercy, to beg for death.
Jesus saw what was coming. What did he do? He did not run away in the night, back to the hills of Galilee. He did not try to form an army of believers to fight off the threat. He gathered with those he loved the most and remembered how God, his Abba, delivered the ancient Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. He ate. He drank. He heard the story of deliverance. He instructed, consoled and promised.
It boggles my mind that one who believes they are about to suffer so horrifically can speak of love, peace and joy but, that is exactly what Jesus does.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus promises his followers a peace that surpasses understanding, a peace that is not fragile like the peace that governments and societies promise. The word Jesus used is shalom and means much more than the absence of conflict. “To wish someone shalom is to wish him or her the blessing of wholeness and integrity.”[i] To experience shalom is to live an undivided life, to live from your true self, authentically. There is no struggle between the facets of who we are. We are made whole. This is the reason the peace that Jesus offers is so different from the peace the world offers, it is not dependent at all on external circumstances.
He also promised joy. Joy! He is about to be betrayed, tortured and executed and he’s talking about joy.
Once again, this is not joy like the world offers, a fleeting happiness that comes from the purchase of something we have convinced ourselves we need, the achievement of some imposed goal or the victory of our hometown sports team. The joy that Jesus offers is an exuberance for life that is whole, mature and complete. Like shalom, it is not dependent on external events or experiences. Neither is it a pseudo-joy some seem to exhibit in difficult times as a defense against disappointment and pain. The joy that Jesus promises runs deep. It flows from within even when we suffer and grieve.
The promises of peace and joy that Jesus offers are wrapped up in his command to love one another. For three years he has been teacher and Master to his apprentices and now he is leaving them with his final instructions:
Make yourselves at home in my love.John 15:9, 12, 13
Love one another the way I have loved you.
No greater love has anyone than to lay down their live for another.
Time and again Jesus demonstrated that the love he spoke about is much more a verb than a noun. Not dependent on how we feel, it is all about how we treat one another, what we do for one another, even when it requires sacrifice. It is made real through acts of kindness, generosity, inclusivity, acceptance, forgiveness, patience and sharing what we have so others have what they need.
When we choose love, peace and joy take root in our live. When we make ourselves at home in the One who is LOVE we allow ourselves to heal into wholeness, grow in integrity and allow an exuberance for life to blossom within us.
[i] Harold S. Kushner, Living a Life That Matters (NY: Anchor Books, 2001), p. 89.