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Peace. It’s an elusive reality for our world today, a precious commodity, desired by everyone, yet how do we work towards it? Francis of Assisi as known as a man of peace. He lived for the poor, by living with them, all in his way to serve and worship the God that gave him life and animated his daily living. In this month of the Winter Olympics, celebration of Black History which recalls a vibrant nonviolent movement for peace and reconciliation, and continued talks about the “gearing down” of war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, peace continues to be as poignant as ever to our global village and our local contexts.
In the life of Francis we’re told that in 1219 he went to Egypt to participate in the 5th Crusade. He joined not as a celebrated knight seeking glory, but as a poor brother seeking to share the love of God known in the story of Jesus. Motivated and animated by his desire to follow Christ and to live out his teachings, Francis (and his brothers) dreamed of going to the Holy Land to bring the Crusades to an end not by conquest but by conversion. Deeming it better to create Christians than to destroy Moslems.” (Chesterton, Chp 8)
At Damietta, in Egypt, Francis met and spoke with the Sultan, al-Kamil, a nephew of Saladin. Accounts give little to no information about what transpired during the encounter beyond noting that the Sultan received Francis graciously and that Francis preached to the Saracens without effect, returning unharmed to the Crusader camp.
Did Francis go on such a trip from his interpretation of the teachings of Jesus on peace, in particular John 14:23-29, Matthew 10:34-39 & Luke 4:14-21? At the birth of Jesus, who is to be called the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) the angels proclaim that peace has come in the world (Luke 2:14). In John 14 we hear Jesus talk of his peace that he brings into the world – which is not like the peace of the world. Matthew 10 asserts a problematic word in that the consequences of Jesus’ teachings will undoubtedly bring conflict, even if they are taught in nonviolence and peace. Luke 4 is the first recorded “sermon” of Jesus in which he comments upon the desire of God to give peace “the year of the Lord’s favor” to all people – in particular the poor, excluded, broken and marginalized.
The word Peace in Greek [eirene] in the Roman World meant a state of national tranquillity or an exemption from the rage and havoc of war. It was a peace between individuals, i.e. harmony, concord, security, safety, prosperity, felicity, (because peace and harmony make and keep things safe and prosperous). In Roman times (the world of Jesus) peace most pointed back to the Pax Romana – the peace – or cessation of the civil war accomplished by the rising power of Emperor Augustus, a legal security more about the absence of hostility than the presence of goodness.
In the New Testament, peace harkens back to the Old Testament Hebrew word for peace [Shalom] which is more about relationship than a state. Shalom is the full presence of well-being whether material or bodily, personal or communal. It’s not something that humans can agree to, but rather a gift that only God can give. It’s an eschatological word, pointing to the time outside of normal time, the sabbath of sabbaths or the 8th day – the destiny or perfection towards which God is bringing and will bring the world.
Jesus came to bring peace, to be our peace – it’s why we pass the peace in worship. But what does that mean for us? How are we called in turn to be peace-makers, to imitate the life of Christ? Should we take off on the next Boeing 747 for Kandhar or Kabul? What about the lack of peace in our own city of Oakland besieged by gun violence, drug abuse, gang activity, child prostitution and crime? Will we only have peace if we convert or proselytize those of other religions? What is peace for us now – what does God want for us – and how are we called to live for peace?
I’m confronted by my often blasé indifference to the need and hunger for peace in my own city. If I believe that Jesus is the PRince of Peace – who gives and is a peace that makes all things new, brings fullness and completion to us as human beings….then what am I doing with my life, my time, my energy, my gifts, my money to be an active peace-maker, reflecting that peace of Christ around me?
Questions for Reflection:
*What word, phrase or image strikes you in the Matthew 10 and John 14 passages?
*How does the story of Francis’ encounter with the Sultan touch your story, our story as a church?
*How do you see the Church: the community of those who follow Jesus of Nazareth – as being active peace-makers?
*How do you see yourself as being sent to proclaim the Kingdom of God come among us by building peace?
The story of Francis meeting the Sultan in other sources online:
◦ Listen to a round-table interview about Francis, and his life on Irish Radio. [Newstalk link]
◦ Listen/Read to a retelling of the story of Francis meeting the Sultan in the book God’s Troubadour: the Story of St. Francis of Assisi by Sophie Jewett [text of “With the Crusaders”] [audio retelling podcast to listen to – select number 3 from the list]
◦ Read Chapter 8 of Chesterton’s book on Francis, which details this encounter. “The Mirror of Christ” [LINK to Chapter.]