A Together Peace
Scriptures: Isaiah 11:1-9; Ephesians 2:13-16
There is a poem by Robert Frost called "Mending Wall" about
two neighbors who go out every spring to repair the old stone wall that separates their property. Part of the poem goes like this:
Something there is that does not love a wall, That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it, And spills the upper boulders in the sun; And makes gaps even two can pass abreast. . No one has seen them made or heard them made, But at spring mending-time we find them there. I let my neighbor know beyond the hill; And on a day we meet to walk the line And set the wall between us once again. . There where it is we do not need the wall: He is all pine and I am apple orchard. My apple trees will not get across And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him. He only says, "Good fences make good neighbors." That is what I call a separate peace-a peace maintained by
building walls, by separating people, by putting children in different rooms or spouses in different homes or Israelis and Palestinians on opposite sides of a concrete barrier.
For a long time in South Africa they practiced what was
called apartheid. Blacks and white were required to live in different neighborhoods, go to different schools, and use separate restrooms. In some cases black South Africans were relocated to small self-governing homelands-tiny territorial islands where black South Africans could vote for their own leaders, but not vote in the country as a whole. The white population was afraid to let black South Africans vote in the country as a whole because they would easily out-vote the whites in any election. So they were segregated into their own territories, similar to the way Palestinians are segregated into small semi-autonomous territories in the West Bank. It's what I call "a separate peace."
That is not, however, the kind of peace envisioned by God.
Isaiah 11 says, "The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them." This is not talking only about animals. This is a metaphor for relationships between people. It is a metaphor for traditional enemies being brought together. It is what I call "a together peace."
Sometimes I think it is easier to imagine a lion lying down
with a lamb than children sharing a bedroom. It is easier to imagine peace between wolves and sheep than between Israelis and Palestinians or Shiites and Sunnis or Republicans and Democrats. Anyone can make peace by separating people, but how do you have a together peace?
According to Isaiah, it first requires justice. Listen
again to the beginning of Isaiah 11. Verse 1 says, "A shoot shall come out of the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots." Jesse was the father of King David. This reference to the stump of Jesse means that God will raise up a new king descended from King David. Verses 3-4: "His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear. In other words, he won't be prejudiced by appearances or hearsay. "But with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth."
Think about it. There can be no peace without justice. If
a child feels pushed around or abused by older siblings, there will be no peace in that family. If a spouse feels unjustly hurt, unfairly dominated, or cruelly put down by the other spouse, there will be no peace in that marriage. If the poor in a country feel they have no hope, no chance to make their lives better, if they feel that the probabilities as well as the possibilities are stacked against them, there will be no peace in that country. A together peace must be built on justice.
But it also requires something more, and that takes us back
to our first scripture reading. In Ephesians 2, the apostle Paul says, "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one [meaning Jews and Gentiles] and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us."
The New Testament reminds us that Jesus was a descendant of
King David. In other words, Jesus is the promised shoot from the stump of Jesse, the branch that shall grow out of his roots. Jesus is the one who can bring a together peace, and he does it not by an overwhelming display of power but by dying for us on a cross.
A together peace requires two things: first justice and then
When apartheid came to an end in South Africa in 1995, the new South
African government set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Victims of human rights violations under the former apartheid government could come to the commission, tell their story, and seek reparation for damages where such reparation might be possible. In many cases no reparation was possible, but just telling the story, letting the truth be known, was a healing for many people. Meanwhile, the perpetrators of human rights violations-and remember, we are taking here about arrests, torture, killing, imprisonment without trial, and unjust seizures of land-perpetrators of these things could also come to the commission, make a full truthful disclosure of their actions, offer to make restitution where possible, and in return receive full amnesty and be restored to full citizenship in the new South Africa.
It was a remarkable offer. Giving full amnesty meant essentially
giving forgiveness. It meant letting go of a desire for revenge. In this respect Nelson Mandela led the way. If anyone was entitled to retribution, it was Nelson Mandela after being imprisoned by the apartheid government for 27 years. But he sacrificed his own desire for retribution, his own desire for justice against his enemies, in order that his country might have a together peace.
Interestingly, South Africa is one of the few countries on
the African continent in the last 20 years that has not suffered a devastating civil war. Look at Rwanda, the Congo, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Somalia. Where other countries in Africa have suffered devastating cycles of violence, retaliation, insurgency and counter-insurgency, South Africa, despite its long history of oppression, has transitioned to a new government without the waves of violence and reprisal that have racked other countries.
A together peace requires justice, acknowledging the truth
of what has happened and requiring reparations where possible, but it also requires forgiveness-the willingness to suffer wrong without retaliation, which is exactly what Jesus did for us on the cross.
One more example. Lewis Smedes, a former professor at
Fuller Seminary, tells the story of a man named Joe who owned a bakery on the edge of a poor urban neighborhood. Joe was very popular with his customers. He sold day-old bread at half the supermarket price, and whenever kids came to buy his sweet rolls, Joe threw in a sugar-sprinkled donut for free. But one day as Joe was closing his store three kids from the neighborhood walked into the store, pulled a gun, and cleaned out Joe's cash register. Then, as they were leaving, one of the kids named Sam inexplicably shot Joe in the stomach.
Thankfully Joe survived, and while he was in the hospital
many people from the neighborhood came to see him, including Sam's parents who felt horrible about what their son had done. Then one day Sam himself came to the hospital to ask Joe's forgiveness. In response Joe did two things. First he testified against Sam at his trial, and Sam was sentenced to a year in juvenile detention. There is no peace without justice, and Joe made sure that Sam was held accountable for his actions. But when Sam was released a year later, it was Joe who helped him find a part-time job cleaning a store. The store was Joe's bakery (Forgive and Forget, p. 47).
That is what I call "a together peace." I once read an
interview with a man on his 100th birthday. The man said to the reporter, "I'm 100 years-old today, and I don't have an enemy in the world." "Really," the reported said, "that's wonderful." "Yep," the man said, "my last enemy died a year ago."
That's what you call a separate peace, when all your enemies
are finally dead. That is not the peace Jesus came to bring. Jesus offers the kind of peace which says even to those who crucified him, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do."
Something there is that does not love a wall. That
something is God.