We talk a lot about the Great Commission at the end of Matthew, the “Go ye therefore into the all the world…” commission. But I feel the commission at the end of John, the Heavy Commission, may be more important for us to meditate on today.
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”
After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
Again, Jesus said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Peace be with you.
Because we contrast peace with “war,” we think of it as the end of conflict. We say, “I just want some peace,” meaning you want the chaos of life to slow down. It’s what dead people are – “at peace.”
The Hebrew understanding of “shalom” or “peace” has a much richer meaning. These images of rest and the absence of chaos, and the end of conflict are by-products of peace, but not peace itself.
Imagine you are at a playground with your five-year-old daughter. It’s a crowded Saturday. The plastic equipment is crawling with kids. Various adults, are scattered around the perimeter of the wood-chips, standing guard over their charges. Your phone buzzes in your pocket, and you answer it. You talk for a minute or two, lost in conversation. When you look up, your daughter is gone.
You search the playground with your eyes, thinking maybe she is just in a slide or blocked from your view by another kid. Seconds tick away, but you still don’t see her. You begin to walk the perimeter, hoping that may be you will see her if you get another angle on the equipment. Your heart begins to race because you still can’t find her. You call her name, at first softly, hoping not to make a scene, and then louder as your adrenaline begins to take over. You begin asking the strangers, “Have you seen my little girl? She was in a blue shirt? She was just right here.” With nervous eyes, they shake their heads “no.” A few offer to help you look.
Everyone begins searching. You can feel your breath catch in your chest. You start to consider the possibility that she was taken. You fight back the thought of some sick stranger doing something horrible to your little girl. You call her name again, but there is a knot in your throat and water in your eyes. You can feel yourself surrendering to panic.
Then, suddenly, there she is, petting a dog twenty yards away. You run to her and snatch her up, squeezing her tight.
That moment when your daughter is back in your arms – that moment is shalom. That’s peace.
The end of your chaos, the absence of conflict is a by-product to the shalom. Shalom is completion. Shalom is fulfillment. Shalom is healing. Shalom is something incomplete being made whole.
Now let’s look at the passage again.
The disciples of Jesus are hiding. They had trusted their lives to this man. They’d called him rabbi. They’d risked believing he was the promised one, and now he was dead. So they hid with fear because they were sure they had made a horrible mistake that would now cost them their lives.
But then, there he is, standing in the room with them. And he says the words, “Peace be with you.” And they were overjoyed.
This gift of peace is something every follower of Jesus experiences. It is the moment when we understand that the world is different. It is the moment of finding fulfillment in surrender. It is the words of that beautiful hymn:
Because he lives, I can face tomorrow.
Because he lives, all fear is gone.
Because I know, he holds the future.
My life is worth the living, just because he lives.
But the scene doesn’t end with Jesus’ followers receiving peace. Jesus says the words again.
“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
In a few short seconds, the receivers have become the givers. This is the radical mystery of God, that he would partner is the failed and powerless people in his mission to make the world right. Followers of Christ are charged with carrying shalom into a hurting, chaotic, and desperate the world. He sends us out as Peace Makers. Shalom should be the by-product of our presence. Christ commissioned us to provide the world with wholeness that will produce healing, rest, and fulfillment.
After empowering them to accomplish this mission, as if to drive the point home, Jesus adds a final, crushing sentence.
“If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Jesus says to his disciples that the only way the people of the world will find forgiveness is if they bring it. If they remain silent, the world will remain broken.
Sadly, more often than not we do not take the position of Peace Maker. Rather, we chose to take up the mantle of judge. We don’t bring compassionate. Rather, we bring condemnation. We do not offer acceptance. We offer our opinions, pushing those who need healing away.
The judge’s seat has never been ours to take. Our job is not to condemn. Our job is to offer forgiveness, because if we don’t offer it, no one will find it.
I can’t help but wonder how different my world would be if I spent less time doing the job that isn’t mine – judging the sins of others, and more time doing the job I was told to do – living as God’s Peace Maker, finding ways to bring wholeness to others around me.
Christ did not die so that I might stand above my neighbor. He died so that I might join Him in helping my neighbor find shalom.