The way each culture handles greetings is interesting. In Chinese, the way you say “hello” actually means “are you well?” In German the greeting basically means “I wish you a good day!” But in lots of languages, the word used to greet others is “peace.” It’s true in Hawaiian—“aloha”—it’s true in Hindi—“Namaste”—and it’s true in Hebrew—“shalom.” Isn’t it interesting how, across the globe, there’s this common theme that we greet one another with peace?
I think at least part of that is because we really do hope that our words of peace become peace when we say it. We want there to be peace between nations, since war is such a terrible thing. And we wish for peace in our communities, so that everyone can live in safety. And we wish for peace in our families, where we can still come together and love one another.
But we also should talk about what we mean when we say “peace.” When I say “peace,” what do you think of?
“Peace,” when we wish for it, looks like serenity. It looks like a calm lakeshore on a balmy July evening. Peace between people looks like love and friendship, getting along. It looks like no conflict and no disagreement. Peace feels good, too, right?
So why on earth would Jesus prepare his disciples on how to respond if no one accepts the peace they offer when they enter a household? If peace is such a deep desire of ours that it’s built into the very way people greet each other, why would Jesus suggest their peace wouldn’t be received? Based on what Jesus has taught elsewhere, I think it’s safe to say that what Jesus means by peace and what the world often expects peace to look like aren’t quite the same.
See, Jesus lived in a time of great peace. The Pax Romana, the Peace of Rome. It was a time of tranquility, the end of a decades-long series of civil wars. Roman expansionary wars were winding down and the frontiers were quiet. But that peace was built on a telling silence. Anyone who would dare question Rome’s gracious benevolence, its blessings on the world, its liberating freedom that it brought, would be swiftly crushed by the massive Roman military machine. Peace as tranquility can look like peace through quiet terror.
South Africa was peaceful during Apartheid, after all. One of my good friends growing up would say that her household was peaceful—as long as no one made her father upset. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was very peaceful—no civil strife between ethnic groups while he was in power. I’m sure we all know families where peaceful quiet is maintained as long as certain members are kept happy and others keep their mouths shut. Even Dixieland was tranquil and peaceful until the 1960s. Well, they were peaceful for someone, anyway.
Is it really peace if it just means no conflict? Is quietly accepting a boot on your neck really the kind of peace Jesus expected his disciples to share? Is peace bought with the silence of certain groups of people really the peace that was meant to rest on each house they entered?
I think we all know the answer to that one.
When Jesus was preparing his disciples for people rejecting their peace, he was talking about the gospel peace. And the gospel peace is more than quietness. Gospel peace is a challenge to power. Gospel peace upends injustice to right wrongs. Gospel peace opens prison doors and gives dignity to those who have been silenced. Gospel peace brings more than a lack of conflict—it brings a restoring wholeness to everyone. It’s why gospel peace is met with rejection. When there has to be disruption to get to gospel peace, we for who haven’t seen anything wrong with a silent peace tend to get upset and defensive.
But achieving that peace involves a different mode of being in the world. Jesus sent the seventy to proclaim the good news, and do it by embodying the kingdom ethic of hospitality—of welcome. Bring nothing that will sustain you; be vulnerable and dependent. Don’t bounce from house to house; get to know the people you are with. Challenge yourself by accepting whatever odd food they put before you, whether it’s ritually clean or not. Let the gospel peace, which sees people, shine through in what you do. See your host, and let your host see you.
That kind of practice in hospitality is hard. We like to be in control, to make the decisions. It’s why we would prefer to invite new people to our house, rather than be invited to theirs. We get to set the rules if we’re the hosts. But Jesus calls us to be guests instead. And utterly dependent ones, at that. Letting ourselves be that vulnerable was hard in the first century; it’s basically unheard of now. Just this week I tried to gift my colleague lunch to celebrate his retirement, and he flat-out refused to let me do it! We are not used to, nor often comfortable with, being vulnerable enough to be dependent on others.
But that vulnerability is the very thing that undermines the Pax Romana type peace. When we live in such a way that we become dependent on one another, then the boot on our neighbor’s neck is impossible to accept as a cost for what passes as “peace.” When we recognize that the goodness of the kingdom is rooted in mutually relying on one another, how can we not keep solidarity with the people who are considered expendable in the name of peace? That kind of radical hospitality, the kind that shapes us to let go of control, will lead us to reject the ways the Empire uses control to keep up the appearance of “peace.”
So rather than forcing peace into an unwelcome household and silencing the dissenters, we take our peace to the next house.
And rather than insisting on the control of welcoming so that everyone has to follow our rules, we embody the vulnerability of being welcomed.
And rather than returning rejection with retribution and domination, we wipe our feet of the dust and promise that the kingdom of God has come near, regardless.
And that’s when we’ll see Satan fall from heaven like a bolt of lightning.
It’s an odd interjection, isn’t it, when Jesus mentions that little detail right in the middle of this talk of sharing peace and living by radical hospitality? Most of us probably have in mind a Paradise Lost –type view of what Jesus is talking about here. Some kind of distant memory of a war in heaven. But think about the context. Just as the seventy are returning and telling of all the amazing things done in Jesus’ name, Jesus proclaims to them what’s happened.
Proclaiming peace is what casts Satan down. Sharing the radical welcome of the gospel removes Satan from power. Real peace, gospel peace, is what undoes the power of the accuser. And we’re called to take part in this peace-filled power grab by sharing the wholeness of the gospel peace with others, by restoring dignity to those brought low by “peace,” and by proclaiming that the kingdom of God has come near.
So go and proclaim peace. Tell the world that God has brought real peace—the gospel peace—and that peace is more than the peace the world gives. Share the good news that the kingdom of God has come near. Let people know that wholeness, the kind of peace that is more than just an absence of conflict, is being made real here on Earth by God.
And do it by living in the vulnerability of accepting the welcome of others. Do it by letting yourself experience the gifts of others, by letting others set the rules, by letting yourself be dependent on those you’ve been called to serve. And when you do, you’ll see Satan fall from heaven. You’ll see God’s kingdom show up right in front of your face. And you won’t be able to help being so excited that you’ll rejoice to discover what God’s peace looks like in our time.
Thanks be to God. Amen.