Over the past few weeks, the sound of distant war drums seems to be beating louder. True, there are no great wars being fought, nor have there been since the last terrible World War. But little wars continue to plague humankind and the threat of an international conflagration often seems to be a lurking possibility. In the meantime, these little wars are responsible in much of the world for an appalling loss of life, health, prosperity and, of course, peace. The parade of the instruments of war during the American celebration of national independence this past week was a grim reminder that the freedom, joy, and security for which America’s War of Independence was fought remains an elusive attainment. It increasingly seems to be the case in the minds of many Americans that these fruits of peace, for which so many of the poor and oppressed long and are willing to risk their lives and meager wealth to reach, must be guarded jealously and shared at best stingily if at all.
If there is a link joining the readings in today’s liturgy, I think it would simply be peace, but a special kind of
peace. The prophetic description by the poet known as Third Isaiah of the happiness of the exiles after they return to Jerusalem swells with the promise of shalom, that rich and almost untranslatable term that is usually rendered by the single English word, but encompasses good health, prosperity, welfare, tranquility, friendship, and well-being in general. It encompasses both inner freedom from anxiety and distress, and harmony among men and women and between them and their God. The Arabic cognate salam means the same. Both have been and are still used as ordinary greetings, as it was when Jesus himself encountered his followers after his resurrection. In today’s gospel reading, Jesus enjoins it on his disciples as they set out on their first mission. St. Paul uses it as a blessing in the second reading. It is God’s gift but spreads by means of human good will.
Times change, and in many respects the world manages to beat to the same drums, at least politically, that have disturbed the peace for millennia, something I reflected on just before Independence Day eighteen years ago, just two months before the terrible events of that September:
‘It’s foolish to think that God loves one nation more than all others; the question we face is whether we love God — whether we have responded wholeheartedly to the graces and blessings God has bestowed on us as a nation. Are we a beacon of hope and freedom to the oppressed people of the earth? Or have we also fallen back into yoke of slavery to the sinful social structures of the world — expedience, self-service, exploitation, and even tyranny?’
Looking ahead, may the gift we bring to the world be rather what God has willed for all – true and lasting peace. Shalom!