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April 27, 2003

Peace Be With You

(John 20: 19-31)

We continue to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, to rejoice with the disciples, and to pray that we become an Easter people, people of the resurrection, people who know that death does not get the last word, that life is stronger than all the forces of death. I would like to say three things about today's Gospel.

Jesus is so humble, modest, thoughtful, mindful and peaceful. If I had just been betrayed, denied, and abandoned by my friends, and then tortured and executed, I don't know if I would want to go back to those guys or come back to earth at all. I'd probably say to God, "Do I have to go back to that horrible planet and those mean people?" or I'd just be mad for several thousand years at what they did to me.

But Jesus is completely different. Not only does he come back to his friends, he says to them not once but three times, "Peace be with you." He shows them his wounds, and then says it to them again, "Peace be with you."

I think Jesus chooses his words very deliberately, and that he is serious about this gift of peace, that he wants us to live in his peace, that the Gospel is calling us to say, "OK risen Lord, we rejoice that you are alive and we accept your gift of peace."

From now on, the Gospel says, as people of the resurrection, people who follow the risen Jesus, we are going to be perfectly at peace with ourselves, with God, with him, with one another, with our families and spouses and children and parents, with everyone in town and in the church and in the country and the whole world.

So I invite you to reflect on his words, on this gift, and the peace within you. What would it mean to live in his peace, to give your burdens and worries and fears and anxieties and problems to God and really accept Christ's peace? How can each one of us become more peaceful, like him, and radiate peace like him?

The Gospel says that from now on, we are people of peace, people who have peace within us, people who share that same greeting of peace with one another, people who offer peace to the whole world. That's why we have to be against war and nuclear weapons and violence and everything that is not peaceful, no matter what the world says. We seek peace with everyone because we have received the gift of peace from the risen Jesus.

Notice that when he gives us his peace, he shows us his wounds, which I think means that the peace of Christ, the peace not of this world, comes not through violence and war and the false security of weapons, but through our sharing in his wounds, in the cross, in his nonviolent suffering love, through giving our lives for humanity as he did, in love for everyone. I remember when I was in prison with Philip Berrigan for our plowshares disarmament action, Phil spoke at length to me about this. Peace comes through the cross, he said.

Second, notice is that after he gives us his peace, he does another unusual thing. He breathes his spirit of peace upon us. Throughout his life, Jesus says, "I want to be your servant. I want to be your friend. I want to be even food and drink." Now he goes even farther, and says, "I want to be the air you breathe! I want you to live and breathe in my spirit of peace."

So we are invited to breathe in his spirit of peace and breathe out his spirit of peace on one another so that we are living and breathing in the peace of Jesus. The Buddhists say that we are supposed to be so peaceful and centered that we are aware of our every breath, like Jesus. So I invite you to breathe in the spirit of resurrection peace from now on.

Third, Thomas refuses to believe in the resurrection and the following week, Jesus appears and says "Peace be with you" and tells Thomas to put his finger into his wounds, his hand into his side, and believe.

About 20 or 30 years before the Gospel of John was written, around the year 90, the horrible, evil, brutal Roman emperor Diocletian issued an order saying that he was to be addressed as "My Lord and My God," and if you didn't call him that, you would be immediately killed, beheaded or thrown to the lions.

So anyone who heard this Gospel in the second century would be totally shocked, because it is subversive and revolutionary. The Gospel says that the emperor is not god, but our guy, Jesus, is God. When Thomas says, "My Lord and My God," he is risking his life. He is going to be killed and martyred for calling Jesus, not Diocletian, "My Lord and My God." In fact, thousands of early Christians were martyred by Diocletian and the Roman empire.

So when we call Jesus "Our Lord and our God," we place all our allegiance in Christ. But we have lost the danger of those words, the power of those words, the risk. Would you be willing to be martyred for calling Jesus our Lord and our God? We have to find out what those words mean for us today.

I think, like Thomas, we are saying that we are not going to worship any false god or any idol or money or weapons or America or our leaders and their false security. We serve Jesus, "Our Lord and our God." We give him our entire allegiance, come what may.

In these turbulent times, we take up the Gospel challenge to become people of resurrection, people of peace, people who worship Jesus, people who breathe his spirit of peace, people who follow him on the road of peace to the new life of resurrection. What more could we ask for?

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