“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)
We live in a troubled world. Just glimpse at the pages of our newspapers. Go online to see what is trending in our nation or even around the world, and you cannot but agree that humanity is troubled. Jesus perfectly understands our troubled situation and seeks to console us. Last Sunday, we heard Jesus say: “I shall not be with you much longer… I give you a new commandment, love one another just as I have loved you.” (John 13:33-35). Jesus makes us understand that if we love one another as he loved us, our world would be less troubled.
Today, Jesus says to us: “Peace I give to you; not as the world gives… let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27). While we face troubles from the world around us in the form of persecution, injustice, and hatred by those who do not know God, let us bear in mind that the peace of Jesus is not of this world. It is a peace that comes with knowing that we are just pilgrims on our way home.
This is why in our second reading today, St. John gives us a clear picture of our heavenly homeland; the place where we shall ultimately find peace – the city that has no need of the sun and moon because of the brightness of the glory of God. Let us now ponder on some important lessons contained in today’s readings:
1. The Holy Spirit Brings Us Peace.
In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus promises us the Holy Spirit, the Counsellor, the spirit of truth, the one who would teach us all things, the advocate, the one who would defend us in times of trouble and inspire us to make the right decisions. Are you troubled in any way? Call on the Holy Spirit. As we gradually approach the feast of Pentecost, I encourage you to take part in the novena to the Holy Spirit as well as the “Life in the Spirit” seminar. Be devoted to the Holy Spirit and you would survive this troubled world.
Surprisingly, even within the church, there are troublesome elements who take delight in unsettling the minds of people, preaching heresies, and causing division. In today’s first reading, some men came from Judea and were teaching the converts at Antioch (the first place where people were first addressed as Christians) that unless they were circumcised, they cannot be saved. The apostles were able to resolve the matter through dialogue (synodality) and prayerfully listening to the Holy Spirit. Luke tells us that as soon as the letter was read, “they rejoiced at the exhortation” (Acts 15:31) meaning that their peace was restored.
2. Not all those who say ‘Lord, Lord’ will Enter the kingdom of God.
Jesus once said: “A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’ (Matthew 7:18-23)
Whether we like it or not, it is not everyone that calls on the name of Christ that is a genuine Christian. It is not everyone that owns a church or preaches on the Altar that deserves to be listened to. Jesus made it quite clear that by their fruits we shall know them. Just as it was in the early church, there are many today who teach false doctrines aimed at bringing division and confusion among Christians. These men who brought the issue of circumcision can only be described as wolves in sheep’s clothing; their aim was to divide the Jewish converts from the Gentile converts thereby making some Christians feel superior to others.
As the apostles noted, “we have heard that some persons from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions…” You see that this matter was resolved because, at that time, Christians regarded the authority of the apostles. Unfortunately, today Christians are no longer united. There are more than a million different denominations all over the world. Each teaches different sets of doctrines. Anybody can just pick up the bible and start preaching anything that he or she thinks without recourse to the apostles and each believes “I am right but you are wrong.”
3. The Old Testament is fulfilled in the New Testament
At the root of the issue of circumcision is the problem that many Christians still have today – it is the difficulty of reconciling the Old Testament and its requirements with the New Testament. Jesus was considered a rebel by the Jews because they saw Him as someone who has come to change the Old Testament. The way and manner He taught was very different and new. Jesus would say: “You have heard how it was said… but I say to you…” At a point, Jesus had to make it clear that He is not against the Old Testament but He has come to take us to a higher level. “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them.” (Matthew 5:17).
Still, many of the Jews did not understand Jesus. Even after His death and resurrection, they were still trying to fully grasp the significance of His Paschal sacrifice. They did not know whether to continue with Old Testament practices or drop them. If you read the Old Testament, you would agree with me that there are a lot of rules that we Christians do not observe today. Circumcision is just one out of the thousands of observances required by the Law. From time to time, I get questions from Christians who quote these Old Testament passages and begin to wonder why we don’t do this or do that. Some even question why we do certain things that are not explicitly stated in the Bible. For instance, it might shock you to know that cutting one’s beards is forbidden in the Old Testament. (Cf. Leviticus 21:5)
What we must know is that like circumcision, there are many things that are no longer required of us not because these things are wrong but because our salvation no longer depends on the Law but on the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross. St. Paul discusses this matter at length in chapters 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 of his letter to the Romans. (Do well to read it to get the full insight). His conclusion is this: “We are not under the Law anymore but under Grace.” (Cf. Romans 6:14) This is why circumcision, for instance, no longer matters.
However, St. Paul was quick to say: “Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” (Romans 6:15) It is on the basis of this understanding that the apostles wrote to the Gentiles saying, in as much as you are free from the burden of circumcision, there are certain things you must do – you must not partake in idol worship, meat sacrificed to idols, blood, strangled meat, and unchastity. As such, even if we don’t do everything stated in the Old Testament, there are just some things that put a question mark on our Christian identity which we must avoid.
4. If you Really Love God, you will Obey His Words
I am always shocked when I hear Christians complain about how difficult it is to keep God’s words. Many actually believe that the Bible was not written for normal human beings and that it contains certain ideals that are impossible to keep. For instance, the issue of unchastity. For the apostles to have told the Gentiles that circumcision was not necessary but they must refrain from unchastity, it means keeping oneself pure (in thoughts, words, and in deeds) is important.
Of course, it is difficult to be chaste in our morally-derailed world of today but we can conquer this difficulty and rise above the pervasive darkness all around us if we deepen our love for God. Jesus said: “He who does not love me does not keep my words.” (John 14:24). Meanwhile, if we love God so much and obey His words, Jesus tells us that God will come to make his home inside our hearts. How beautiful is the heart where God makes His home! Nothing is difficult for you if you carry God with you. In this case, your body is literally the temple of God and the devil flees from you.
If God makes your heart His home, I bet you will experience true bliss. You will taste the sweetness of heaven even while still on earth and you will have peace. Rather than spend your energy on fleeting pleasures, turn to God, and deepen your love for God. Spend more time in prayer, ask for the Holy Spirit to come into your heart and you will find peace. He who finds God lacks nothing but He who lacks God lacks everything.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, come into my heart that I may find true peace of soul despite all the troubles the world contains. Amen
© Rev. Fr. Evaristus Abu