By Dr JOHN EVANGELISTA
Nearly 2000 years after the first Easter, the successor of St Peter pleads: “Our eyes, too, are incredulous on this Easter of war . . . Let there be a decision for peace.” (Pope Francis, Easter Message, April 17, 2022.) What is “peace”? Why can’t we achieve peace among us? Is peace attainable? Let us turn to the pages of St Luke’s Gospel as he details what our Lord is teaching us about peace.
John the Baptist’s father Zechariah prophesied about the Davidic saviour who will “guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79). This was also prophesied seven centuries before – that a child will be born who will be the Prince of Peace (Is 9:6). On the night that the Saviour was born, a multitude of heavenly hosts announced that peace is on earth to those whom he favours (Luke 2:14). This same acclamation for peace can be heard 33 years later when Jesus triumphantly enters Jerusalem amidst the joyful praising of the crowd (Luke 19:38). Shortly after, Jesus weeps at the sight of Jerusalem as he says: “If you, even you, had only recognised on this day the things that make for peace!” (Luke 19: 42).
To shed light on our original questions, let us attempt to learn from St Luke “what is the ‘way of peace’?”; “what are the things that make for peace?”; and “who does the Lord favour and grants peace [to]?”.
There are two events in Luke’s Gospel when Jesus grants peace to someone directly – to the sinful woman who anointed Jesus’ feet at Simon the Pharisee’s house (Luke 7: 50), and to the woman who was cured of her haemorrhages, which she had had for 12 years (Luke 8: 48). Was it because of their humility, or because of their repentance that Jesus cured them and granted them peace? Their humility and repentance paved the way for their faith which Jesus commended, and for which reason he granted them peace. The condition of the two women represents both the spiritual and physical brokenness of humanity. It is through faith that we are granted peace from our brokenness and find meaning in our sufferings.
The faith of these two women can be described as complete abandonment into the hands of Jesus. To achieve this, they had to let go of things that separated them from him. The sinful woman asked for repentance and showed great love with her actions (Luke 7: 47), while the woman with haemorrhage did everything possible just to be able to touch the fringe of his clothes (Luke 8:44). This action is a symbolic way of getting rid of earthly things which separate us from God, so as to be able to be close to him.
In many instances in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us the way to treat material things, which in themselves are not bad, since God created them, but should lead us to him rather than away from him. Jesus warns us in the Parable of the Rich Fool of how material things can separate us from God: “For one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12: 15). Jesus follows up in Luke 12: 34 with this admonition: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12: 34). If we truly have faith in God that he will provide us with what we need, then we will not set our hearts on material things, but in him whom we trust. Then we will be at peace.
But what could be worse than setting our hearts on material goods? It’s setting our hearts in our own selves, our own egos. And God knows what is in our hearts (Luke 16:15). This is most exemplified in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18: 9-14. Indeed, the pharisee, being self-righteous, trusted in himself and not in God. This was in contrast to the tax collector, who acknowledged his sins and asked for God’s mercy. The tax collector went home justified – he went home at peace with God and at peace with himself. It is not through our own selves that we are made righteous, but it is God who make us righteous through our faith in him.
St Luke offers us models of righteous people in his Gospel, among which are Zechariah and Elizabeth (Luke 1:6), as well as Simeon (Luke 2:25) and Joseph of Arimathea (Luke 23:50). They were all considered righteous since they followed God’s commandments, looking forward to the Messiah, and waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. They all had faith in God, and thus had peace in their hearts. These are the righteous who persevered despite the challenges presented to them, for as Jesus declared in Luke 13:24: “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to”.
Righteousness is the path to peace. Righteousness is the path to the Lord. As St Augustine said: “We have been made for you, O Lord, and our hearts will be restless until [they] rest in you”, or translated otherwise: we will not be at peace until our hearts rest totally in God.
Peace begins with our own selves, deep within one’s heart. Once our hearts are totally in God, it is inevitable that we share this peace with others as well. Like John the Baptist, we have a mission to lead others to God (Luke 1:17); we have a mission to show others what peace really means.
On this Easter of war . . . let there be a decision for peace in our hearts!
Dr. John Evangelista is a medical doctor and practising counsellor. He studied theology and is currently the Dean of the Catholic Theological College.