That was the question Nick Lowe asked in his song made popular by Elvis Costello. It is a serious question that needs to be pressed especially hard to professing Christians these days. Jesus is proclaimed as the Prince of Peace! At Christmas we sing songs of “glad tidings of peace and good will among men.” Of course, in recent years, with the rightward turn of many in the pulpit, it has been stressed that “a more accurate translation of the Greek would be ‘peace to men of good will.’” I don’t know how this revision sits with Jesus’ message of turning the other cheek and going the second mile and forgiving those who have wronged you 70 times seven times in a day. I really don’t think he was worried we were going to be overzealous in our peacemaking. I wonder what the original Aramaic said. I’m sticking with the Christmas carol and the King James Version on this one, and the testimony of the whole direction of God’s word and Jesus’ ministry.
God came into the world not just to bring peace to good people. It’s a good thing, because none of us are that good. Christ is our peace, not only with God, but to bring peace to the nations:
“For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.” (Ephesians 2:14-18)
The first petition of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom of the Orthodox Church is “For the peace from above, and for the salvation of our souls, let us pray to the Lord.” This is foundational, because the Scripture says “God does not hear the prayers of sinners.” The second petition where our real work as a kingdom of priests starts is: “For the peace of the whole world; for the good estate of the holy churches of God, and for the union of all mankind, let us pray to the Lord.”
What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding, indeed!? We pray for them, right there at the beginning of every Liturgy: the peace part is obvious; love: when the churches are in good order, they are sharing the love of God through good works and breaking down walls of discrimination and ethnic and national hatred; and bringing all to unity in mutual respect and equality under God.
So why are so many of my Christian brothers and sisters so nationalistic and promoting the use of assault weapons to overthrow a government that might make you buy insurance for your employees? Why are so many of them racist? Why are so many talking of secession and stirring up anger and hatred just because their candidate didn’t win an election? Why do so many people think its OK to follow a bitter, atheist, immoral, hypocritical Ayn Rand as a moral leader in economics and totally ignore the teachings of Moses, the Prophets, Jesus and the Apostles? Or divorce them, by saying one is for private life and the other is for public life? How very De Peche Mode of you? You have your “own personal Jesus” but He has nothing to say about how we conduct civic life? The slave holders of the 19th century would solidly agree with you. It was the abolitionists who held that Jesus and the Prophets were going to call the nations to account, that dragged this country, kicking and screaming, into the modern age.
We need to revisit the Scriptures to unearth our sense of justice. We have lost our way. We have left Christianity and become Americans only. We have bought into the myth of the rugged individual. We think that if we can choose wisely, and get the right education, and land the right job, or invent the right gizmo, we can end up on top. Reality check. America now has the second lowest chance of upward mobility after England. Our middle class is disappearing at an alarming rate. Our income disparity between employers and workers is many times that of Mexico’s. That wall we are building will soon be keeping us in, if we do not do something quickly to correct things.
American Christianity has been very pietistic and individualistic to the point that modern evangelicalism is so disembodied as to be gnostic. Christianity’s roots, however, are not so. Hebrew did not have separate words for just and right or justice and righteousness. The singular and the corporate or the personal and the societal were so intertwined. The Bible is not just concerned about personal morality; it is concerned about social responsibility. God is not just going to judge individuals for their personal stewardship. He is going to judge the nations for their economic justice: their treatment of the poor. Read the Prophets. They still apply. Jesus did not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them. Our righteousness is to exceed that of the Scribes and the Pharisees, not mimic Rome.
We will examine the tithes of the Mosaic Law. Yes. There were more than one. We will look at the sabbath years, the gleaning rules and the Jubilee, to see a pattern of second chances, economic redistribution, and social justice, that God was setting forth as a pattern for the nations. We will see how God reinforced this message through the captivity and the warnings of the prophets to the nations. It was no accident that Jesus used the Jubilee song of Isaiah to introduce his earthly ministry. It was also not surprising that the entrenched political powers immediately wanted to stone him for preaching that kind of radical redistribution. St. James preached economic equality, as did St. Paul. We will include a few quotes from the Fathers and some examples from the Byzantine Empire. The point is not to push a particular party’s agenda. The point is to get people to think about economic justice and social justice in a more Christian way and bring that to the debate. We need to do like the old preacher told us to do: “Quit your meanness!”