Knowing the things that make for Shalom

This Sunday if you were to try to take the ancient pilgrim way from Bethany on the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem you would find your way blocked. A six metre high ‘security’ wall bars the way.

Yes, we might recognise that the wall has reduced violent attacks in Jerusalem. Yes, we might recognise that the wall has divided ancient communities and separated families. But has this wall of division brought peace?

In our own immediate lives we might recognise strategies which we employ. We don’t go to that conference or fellowship any more. We don’t read that blog or the facebook posts from that person. We don’t sit next to them for coffee, we don’t phone for a chat. Distance and separation provides the illusion of peace, but it is only an illusion.

On that first Palm Sunday, the One worshipped as the Prince of Peace wept over the city of Jerusalem and said,

Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! (Luk 19:42)

They didn’t know and still we don’t know the things that make for peace, for shalom. But we need to learn.

I always smile at that passage in 2 Sam. 11 where David is questioning Uriah. Remember how David has committed adultery with Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife, and sending for Uriah to attempt a deception David questions Uriah before sending him to his wife.

And when Uriah came to him, David asked about the peace of Joab, and about the peace of the people and about the peace of the war. (2 Sam. 11.7 my translation)

Three times in this surprising verse David uses that precious biblical word shalom. Joab is the General in command of the army which is at war besieging an enemy city. The people in this verse are not the whole nation, but those engaged in the army at time of war. In our confused thinking about peace it simply doesn’t make sense to ask after the peace of the war. We live and speak as though war where the opposite of peace, but here David would teach us that a war can be at shalom.

Shalom is a richly theological term in the Old Testament. At root, the term can be used to represent ‘repayment or recompense’ and also ‘well-being, prosperity, the state of mind of being at ease’.[1] David Firth in his commentary on Samuel writes, “David asks about the welfare (shalom) of Joab, the army and the battle. The irony is that shalom is the one thing with which he is not concerned.”[2]

We have diminished the concept of peace in our thinking until it only means an absence of conflict. In 2015 to be at peace means sitting in your favourite chair with your feet up and the TV on; it means no one is shouting at you; it means no one is shooting at you. But the One known as the Prince of Peace did not cease to be that Prince of Peace when he was in discomfort sleeping without home or bed, when he was being betrayed and arrested, when he was mocked and scourged, when he was crucified. He is and always will be the Prince of Peace, the One who makes peace for those who are without peace.

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility. (Eph. 2:14)

What then of our strategies to make peace? We will not be successful in making peace if all we do is build large walls of separation. We will not be successful in making peace if all we do is keep away from those who annoy us, from those who disagree with us, from those who discomfort us. If we would live at peace and be those who are agents of peace we must do more than this.

That first Palm Sunday journey from Bethany to Jerusalem was in part about making peace. Not by seeking to avoid conflict or discomfort but by journeying in it. Yes, the crowds cheered, ‘Hosanna’, but some in the crowds planned murder. The Prince of Peace rode into the city to make peace with those presently not at peace.

Peace making begins with acknowledging that there is an absence of peace. Not only to ourselves, but together with those we are not at peace with. Peace making continues along the difficult road of a commitment to pursuing peace. Not pursuing the sham peace of distance or separation, but the real peace of rewarding fellowship, of a deep well-being of one with another. This is a hard road, but the Palm Sunday road is not an easy one. Only to the extent that we give ourselves to the work of seeking out and growing shalom do we follow the Prince of Peace and travel on the Palm Sunday road. We know that it is Jesus Christ and his cross alone which makes for peace, it is time to begin following him there in our broken relationships: in our families, our work places, our congregations, our denominations and networks. Too long have we had our dwelling among those who hate peace, and become content with the brokenness of separation and division. Let’s follow the King on his donkey and learn what makes for shalom.

[1] Willem Van Gemeren New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, Vol. 4 (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1996). p. 130-135

[2] David G. Firth Apollos Old Testament Commentary 1 & 2 Samuel (Nottingham: Apollos). p.418