PEACE IN TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ACTS 14:19-28; PS 145:10-13, 21; JOHN 14:27-31 ]
Jesus said to His disciples, “Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you.” The world is looking for peace. But there is no peace because peace cannot be found in the hearts of man. Man seeks peace on his own terms, not on God’s terms. The peace that the world is offering is a superficial and fragile peace. For people in the world, peace means the absence of conflicts and hostilities. This leads to pacifism and false compromises. World leaders try to find peace by seeking compromises from all parties. But such compromises would not last long. And even after the compromises, there is no real peace and happiness. It is at best a truce. For others, peace is a psychological peace, an interior peace. They think that just keeping themselves mindful and free from the stress of this world, there will be peace. Again, such peace is momentary. It is not an enduring peace. The moment one wakes up from meditation, one faces the division in the world and is again stressed.
There is no peace so long as there is a lack of justice and compassion in the world. When the dignity of the human person is not respected and when wealth is not more equitably distributed, there can be no peace. There are many people who are deprived of basic needs like shelter, food and education. The irony is that in other parts of the world, many are living in luxury, throwing away food and things. Until everyone is given respect and recognition, the basic needs for sustenance and growth, there can be no real peace. There is no peace when men hurt each other because of greed, envy, lust and sloth. We live among people who are judgmental, heartless and lacking compassion and understanding for the weak and the sick. In the final analysis, the division in the world springs from the division within the human heart.
Where does true peace come from if not from God alone? That is why Jesus said, “Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” If there is division in our hearts, it is because of fear and anxiety about our future and our security. We fear pain, privation, suffering and most of all, death. That is why we have our defense mechanism to secure our rights, our freedom and our needs. But no matter how rich we are, how powerful we are, how healthy we are, we know that all that we have are not secure. Security cannot be found in this world.
This explains why for Jesus, security is only found in God. He reminded the disciples, “You heard me say: I am going away, and shall return. If you loved me you would have been glad to know that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” Jesus spoke of His return to the Father. He knew where He was going after His life on earth. Because He was certain that He would be with His Father, Jesus did not cling to this life on earth or to His possessions. Jesus was certain that His happiness lay in His union with His Father. But more than just union with His Father, He said that He would return, implying His resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit.
When we are certain of our destination and what the outcome of all that we are living for is, we will be willing to bear the pain and the sufferings. For the sake of obtaining an academic degree, students would work hard day and night, burning the midnight oil, sacrificing their pleasures, recreation and even sleep to get their work done. For the sake of our children, parents too are willing to work hard to give them the money to pay for their education and their needs. For the love of our loved ones, we are willing to make sacrifices. This is provided we are sure of the outcome. Otherwise, we just drift through life.
Jesus found peace because He knew that victory over sin, evil and Satan was already won by God. He said, “I have told you this now before it happens, so that when it does happen you may believe. I shall not talk with you any longer, because the prince of this world is on his way. He has no power over me.” Jesus had confidence in His Father’s love and power over the Evil One. Even though he might suffer death, He knew that even death could not overcome life, or evil over goodness. This is what the psalmist says, “All your creatures shall thank you, O Lord, and your friends shall repeat their blessing. They shall speak of the glory of your reign and declare your might, O God, to make known to men your mighty deeds and the glorious splendour of your reign. Yours is an everlasting kingdom; your rule lasts from age to age.”
Accordingly, for Jesus, peace was found in doing God’s will. The entire life of Jesus was to do His Father’s will. From young, Jesus told His parents, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk 2:49) He told the crowd and His relatives, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” (Lk 8:21) With the disciples, the Lord said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.” (Jn 4:34) And at the end of His life, in the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” (Lk 22:42) Thus, “the world must be brought to know that I love the Father and that I am doing exactly what the Father told me.” These words were said just before His passion. It would be His passion and death that revealed to the world that He loved His Father unto death in obedience to His divine will.
Today, St Paul is our exemplar of how we should live our lives in imitation of Christ. We read of his fearless and indefatigable passion for the gospel. He was not afraid of suffering, rejection and even death. The people previously welcomed him as a god but because of the influence of the Jews from Antioch and Iconium who were jealous of him, they “turned the people against the apostles. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the town, thinking he was dead.” But instead of being cowed and fleeing in fear, “he stood up and went back to the town. The next day he and Barnabas went off to Derbe.’ Such was the courage and fortitude of Paul in the face of persecution.
Indeed, more than anyone, Paul has the authority to tell us that we must persevere in faith amidst trials because he was a living example of what it meant to persevere even in the face of opposition, jealousy, betrayal and rejection. Indeed, that was what he did. “Having preached the Good News in that town and made a considerable number of disciples, they went back through Lystra and Iconium to Antioch. They put fresh heart into the disciples, encouraging them to persevere in the faith. ‘We all have to experience many hardships’ they said ‘before we enter the kingdom of God.'” Such was Paul’s encouragement.
And he could do this because he found peace in doing the will of God for he too knew for certain where his future lay. He said, “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:13f) He knew his life on earth was but a passing reality. He was not afraid of death. “I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24) Hence, all his life, he was committed to fulfilling the mission entrusted to him. “Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things.” (Eph 3:8f) Indeed, at the end of his life, he could say, “As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Tim 4:6-8)
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
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