We all know the importance of greetings. We all had to learn the rituals of greeting others. There was the proper way to greet someone you didn’t know; there was the way of greeting family members or those who are friends. When we study another language, one of the first things we learn are the words of greetings. And when we get to that country, we quickly learn the gestures that must accompany those words: the handshake perhaps, and the kinds of handshake, or the folded hands or the bow. Greetings are important because that is how we make the first contact with a new fellow human being and how we continue that contact. We cannot do away with greetings. In the greeting is the beginning of the atmosphere for the trust and the talk that will follow.
The Gospels are full of the greetings of the Risen Jesus. “Peace be with you,” he says. And today we hear that the greeting of the Risen Lord is to be the basis of greeting of his disciples and followers: “Peace to this household.” But the greeting is more than the right words to say; it is more than a sound. The greeting is a word with power. In the greeting of peace, shalom, it is the reality of peace that comes toward the other. When the disciple greets with peace, that peace literally looks for a place to rest; it looks for a peaceful person. Peace, once spoken looks for a receiver. It looks for a home, looks for someone who will recognize it. It looks for a welcome. Peace is interpersonal by nature.
But we have to be careful here. When we greet with peace, we are not saying that we are the authors of that peace or that we created it. Rather we are sending out the word of power in which we stand. We stand in peace and so we offer that to others that we may stand together. Human beings are trying to let peace flow from one to another. But at times Jesus recognized it does not happen.
Peace is really a gift from God. It is an expression of God. God’s peace is finally given to us in and through Jesus, the risen one. It is Luke who makes it very clear that with the coming of Jesus, God’s peace has entered the earth. Such is the message the angels sing when Luke tells of the birth of the Messiah: “Glory to God in the highest and peace to those on whom his favor rests.” The old father of John the Baptist, Zachariah, sings of Christ as the Dawn shining from God that will allow us to walk in the ways of peace. Last week we heard Jesus setting out on his journey to Jerusalem. He does not journey empty handed. Jesus walks through Galilee and up to Jerusalem as a messenger of Peace. And after his resurrection, that is his greeting.
We understand that the death and resurrection of Christ is the great act of making peace. In the movement of Christ’s dying and rising, we are brought together, humanity, and even humanity and the natural world. Hostility is bridged and something is born. The cross draws together what was separated and stood in opposition to one another. There is a new sense of wholeness that happens with the resurrection and it is out of that wholeness that we greet one another.
The prophet Isaiah offers some images of what peace looks like. Isaiah is describing a restored Jerusalem, a city renewed and given back to a people who were in exile. A new home, as it were. It is the Lord who will make this happen and the first image he uses is that of prosperity spreading over Jerusalem like a river. Prosperity here is another word for shalom, peace. It is the sense of order, of being cared for. In Isaiah’s stock of images, it is to know the nurture and contentment of being fed by one’s mother, being held close, of being loved. Peace flows, flows like a river. Peace is not static. It is not a situation of a truce or a standoff. It has movement; it comes toward one and envelops all of one’s very being. Peace is something interpersonal, as interpersonal as a mother feeding a child.
We hear today how Jesus commissions 72 others and sends them out before him. His instructions include what they are to say in greeting and how they are to react to those who welcome them. These 72 others sent out by Jesus are another way of proclaiming that Christ is sending out his peace to the whole world. In the book of Genesis there is a table of the nations of the world. In the Greek version it comes to 72. For Christ to send out 72 disciples to be bearers of the greeting of peace is to say that God’s peace is flowing out from Jerusalem and beyond. God’s peace is all encompassing. And the first encounter with that peace is all in a simple greeting.
We are among those 72 being sent out to the ends of the earth. We carry a gift with us, a gift from God. As Jesus went visiting and brought peace and its power to heal with him, so we are sent out to visit those who need to know that God is working peace in their lives. We carry a message, a simple message: the message that in Christ God is still sending out peace like a stream. There are parts of our world, there is our time in human history that needs to hear this message, not as a dream but as a gift waiting to be accepted.
Remember, you and I are on a journey. According to Jesus we need not carry anything, at least material. That is not what we are bringing. Instead we carry a word a greeting and with that greeting we can we can open a door and give hope to others and begin to give them a glimpse of what the Kingdom really looks and feels like.
Fr. Joel Macul, OSB