Author Evelyn Underhill wrote that it was interesting to her how the time that Jesus wanted to offer his followers peace was when they were on the threshold of the most tumultuous time of their lives together. (See Evelyn Underhill, The Fruits of the Spirit, Morehouse, 1981, 62) “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27) Then Jesus went out and died a most painful death. He was betrayed and denied and abandoned. He was beaten to a bloody pulp and hung on a cross to suffocate and die, to be mocked and spat upon, sneered at and ignored as one more example of how not to live in peace. “Not as the world gives.”
Maybe that’s our problem. Maybe we just don’t understand peace. Maybe we’ve defined peace as the absence of something, of conflict, or worry, of trouble, of doubt; but Jesus wants us to define peace as a presence. Peace is not what we’ve emptied from ourselves, but what we’ve filled ourselves with. And what we’ve not filled ourselves with is ourselves – at least according to James.
James doesn’t like all this hanging around waiting for stuff to happen. He wants to get to work. James is a doer, a worker. And he says if we are going to fill ourselves up with something, if we are going to occupy ourselves with something, it might as well be the right things. There are the heavy things, says James, the things that weigh you down, the things that are never satisfying, never enough, the things that always make you want more, that measure your worth not by what you have but by what you don’t have, or by what someone else has. We can occupy ourselves with filling that bottomless pit in our souls that is never content but will use any means, will break any bond, will step on any toe to get what satisfies that gnawing hunger that won’t ever go away.
Or, James says, praise be to God, we can make peace; we can sow peace. We can work peace, says James – the peace that says I am not the center of the universe, even the universe of my own understanding and experience; the peace that says while I am loved and valued, I understand that best when I love and value others; when I act out of respect and hospitality; when I cede center stage so that I might applaud another; when I give aid and comfort; when I bind up and heal; when I mentor and teach; when I pour myself out in the name of God into lives of those I love around me.
The harvest James mentions is not peace. Did you notice? Peace is not an end. I know we pray, “Give me peace.” Jesus even said in the Gospel of John, “I give you peace; my peace I give to you.” But it isn’t so that we can become peace hoarders, so that we can stock up on peace for the lean times, the difficult times. Peace is the mode of action. Peace is the methodology by which we choose to be at work in the world. We sow peace; we make peace; we bring peace; we toss peace around like seeds, like cool drinks of water on sweltering days; we plant peace in hearts - our own and everyone else’s.
It sounds like work. That is the opposite of what we thought peace was, once upon a time – the kicking back, not really caring kind of peace. No, this peace is the enemy of apathy. This peace turns the tables on injustice. This peace brings a sword that cuts through pretensions and falsehood, through prejudice and oppression. Yes, it is work. Sowing peace is an all-consuming enterprise. But it does have an end. A harvest James calls it. A result.
Righteousness. That’s what James calls it. A harvest of righteousness. What is that exactly? Well, Jesus called it the kin-dom of God. It is the body of Christ living as though they were a body. It is a community of faith and faithfulness that lives in love together and builds a sanctuary against the life that tears down and separates. Righteousness is about being faithful to our relationships, about honoring the covenants, with God first of all, but then also with brothers and sisters - those in the faith and those not yet there. Righteousness is about living as though God were the determiner of who was worth loving and who wasn’t.
Peace, like joy then, is an outcome of love. When we learn to love God, we will know peace. When we learn to love like God, then we will make peace; we will sow peace.