The son of God was a contrarian from birth
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the last in a yearlong series of letters Paul Graves has written to his grandchildren. They are based on the Peace Prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.
Dear Katie, Claire and Andy,
Where in Bethlehem does the Gospel of Luke say Jesus was born? Sure, in a manger in a stable where animals lived. Pretty shabby place, don’t you think? I do, especially for the “prince of peace.” That was one of the titles the Jewish people used to describe the man who would someday come to save them.
Is a manger in a stable any place for a prince to be born? Maybe not for an ordinary prince. But Jesus was not an ordinary prince, was he? As God’s flesh-and-blood son, Jesus was a model for all that God wanted all people to be. He lived a peace that the world hadn’t experienced before. Or since.
The peace of God turns our definitions upside-down from what we usually think of as peace. So it should be no surprise to us that Jesus began his life as the prince of peace in an upside-down kind of way. He was born in a stable, not a palace. From his very birth, Jesus was a peace-filled contrarian.
What’s a contrarian, Grampa? I’m glad you asked. It’s a funny-sounding word that means someone who is contrary, who goes against what most other people think or say or how they might act. God’s understanding of peace is contrary to most ways we describe peace. So I call Jesus a contrarian filled with God’s peace.
I tell you this, kids, because I believe that the peace-steps in St. Francis’ Prayer of Peace we’ve been exploring in 2012 can easily be understood as contrary to our usual understanding of peace. In that sense, the prayer reflects the spirit of Jesus big time.
A longtime friend of mine died some months ago. She was 90 years old. Her family was in emotional turmoil in her last year of life. She told me a number of times that all she wanted before she died was peace in her family. It was clear to me that what she meant by peace was the absence of conflict.
Many of us think of peace that way, don’t we? It’s a very common way to describe peace. But it is also a very incomplete way to describe peace. The word means much more, whether in English, Hebrew, Arabic or many other languages.
It can mean “hello,” “goodbye,” “quietness,” “rest,” “well-being,” “be safe,” “be friendly,” “completeness,” plus many other things. The descriptions I think are closest to what Jesus embodied are found in the Jewish word “shalom.” It always points to some action that leads to “wholeness.”
That wholeness is related to how much justice and truth are present in relationships between people, or between people and God. I strongly believe God’s desire is for us to always work toward restoring relationships that are broken or damaged in some way.
But restoring a relationship takes much more than just having the absence of conflict! It requires the presence of good intention, of love that seeks the well-being of another person – even someone thought to be an enemy. (See how Jesus’ form of peace goes contrary to our normal thinking?)
Kids, look again at the prayer’s separate “invitations” – like “where there is hatred, let me sow love.” Think how you might act out each invitation in your life to reflect Jesus’ description of peace. Each invitation calls us to be contrary to one of our impulses. That’s tough.
But that’s why I think it is important to take the prayer seriously. Not just today, but also at other times in your life.
The Rev. Paul Graves, a Sandpoint resident and retired United Methodist minister, is the founder of Elder Advocates. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.