Of course, no one was surprised last week when Donald Trump said that his favorite Bible verse was “an eye for an eye”. It’s the perfect example of how little people understand Jesus. Last night someone told me that Christianity feels a lot like playing follow the leader, and no one actually knows what they’re following. It’s really felt like that a lot lately, hasn’t it?
Here’s what Jesus actually says about Donald Trump’s favorite verse:
You have heard it said, ’Eye for an eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other also.
Jesus went on to say in this sermon that you should love your enemies and pray for people who persecute you, that even tax collectors love people who love them, and even pagans greet their own people.
Jesus isn’t on a mission to retaliate; instead, Jesus is running on a platform of reconciliation. When Jesus’ life was threatened and Peter drew his sword to fight against the soldiers, Jesus rebuked Peter and healed the soldier.
This was the beginning of the end of Jesus’ life. He was a threat to the Roman Empire. The Romans were ruled by Caesars who claimed to be the son of God, sent to earth to bring peace and prosperity. The Romans ruled for 500 years from England to India, with their mission of peace. They called it pax romana.
The way that they were able to bring peace, was through destroying and killing anything that got in the way of their peace. Essentially, if anyone or anything didn’t line up with the way they thought and believed, if anyone couldn’t submit to their way of life, if anyone could not abide by their rules, follow their leader, if anyone or anything was in opposition or expressed disagreement, they killed them.
If anything threatened their power, they killed them.
If anyone threatened their image, they killed them.
If anyone threatened their way of life, they killed them.
That’s pax romana. That’s how the Romans ruled the world. Through brutal, violent force. They carried out their mission of peace by eliminating anything that got in their way.
Jesus certainly got in their way. He threated the Empire, and they killed him for it.
Peace is easy when you get rid of the opposition. Peace is easy when you kill and keep out everyone who isn’t in line with you. Peace is easy when you achieve unity through silencing dissenting voices. But is this really peace, or just the silencing hand of fear?
Jesus threatened this way of pursuing peace. Jesus threatened the Roman Empire. But Jesus did not fight against their oppressive system through military force, much to the disappointment of his followers. Instead, Jesus took the way of nonviolence.
Caesar’s way was to crush and kill and crucify everyone and everything that didn’t get in line. But Jesus’ life, death and resurrection show us that there is another way. There is another kingdom to live in. There is another kingdom that is popping up throughout the world.
Jesus was killed on Friday, the tomb was empty on Sunday morning and by Sunday night the disciples were locked in a room. They were afraid for their lives. They knew the Romans would be looking for them.
And in John 20:19-23 Jesus appeared to the disciples and said, “Peace be with you.” The Hebrew word for peace is shalom. Shalom means God is working in the world. According to Eerdman’s Bible Dictionary, When used as a verb it means: to complete. It’s used throughout the Hebrew Scriptures to explain the repayment of debts, finishing Jerusalem and restoration. It is also used to describe a permanent state of being that is absent from war and enemies. The prophet Isaiah wove shalom in with the destruction of weapons and reconciliation of former enemies.
Shalom is not about the elimination of enemies, but about the reconciliation of enemies. Shalom is about the world being put back together; shalom is about Jesus mending what’s broken in our world; shalom is about loving your neighbor— which is not limited by proximity, sameness or likability.
After Jesus’ gruesome death, the disciples knew they held a similar fate. It was only a matter of time. They hid behind locked doors full of fear and grief and despair. Jesus appeared to them and said, “Peace be with you.” He told them, “As the father has sent me, so I am sending you.” The mission isn’t over. The kingdom isn’t complete. There’s still work to do! Jesus essentially said, “Of course you’re afraid, but I need you to go back out into that terrifying world and carry on the mission.”
Shalom is an alternative way to live in the world. Shalom makes God’s kingdom a reality. It’s a way of life that reminds us that God is reconciling all things to himself, that God is gathering the people that look like us, think like us, act like us and lots of the people who don’t. Shalom erases all of the boundaries. Shalom tears down all of the walls. Shalom is the way of redemption, reconciliation and restoration. Shalom finds unity even in difference.
There’s the peace of Christ, and then there’s the peace of Rome. I fear that we've confused the two.