by David Phelps
“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” - Mother Teresa
In late August, in response to demonstrators occupying Government House, in the capital, Bangkok, Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej of Thailand was expected to call out the military to quell the protesters. Earlier in the week, on Tuesday, more than 30,000 people joined in protests. The Civil Court had ordered the demonstrators to leave Government House. The following night, riot police were ordered to remove the protestors but it was feared this could not be accomplished without bloodshed. But then, early the following morning, the police suddenly withdrew. Prime Minister Sundaravej said, “I have a sword but I have chosen not to use it.” He is considered a weak leader, having vacillated repeatedly between a soft and hard response to the demonstrations, but in this instance we can learn from his words.
Our world—and especially our own nation—is faced with the ongoing reality of war. Our current U.S. presidential campaign has war as one of its central themes. We are well-versed in using our sword but how well-versed are we in choosing not to use it? Our political candidates talk a great deal about war but not much about peace. Every problem seems to have violence as a solution. But the prophet Isaiah wrote, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks;” (Isa. 2:4b NRSV). We seem to have plenty of swords but not enough plowshares, an abundance of war but a shortage of peace.
We commonly think of peace as something that happens—or doesn’t happen—outside of ourselves. And yet, peace begins within each of us. In their classic song, Sy Miller and Jill Jackson wrote, “Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me.” Peace is not simply a matter of the number of ships in the Persian Gulf or how many troops are in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. Peace is how we as people behave and conduct ourselves.
The old expression “he/she held his/her peace” means that he/she remained silent. But it also implies that he/she maintained his/her internal peace. When Jesus was being questioned by the high priest on the night before he was crucified, he could have responded angrily. Modern translations say something like “But Jesus was silent.” (Matt. 26: 63a NRSV). This is undoubtedly true but the King James Version says, “But Jesus held his peace.” Personally, I think this is a bit closer to the truth. He maintained his internal peace, even in the face of opposition which would ultimately lead to his death. Peace is not the absence of conflict, it is a response to conflict. Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Rom. 12:18 NRSV).
During a recent Sunday service, our new pastor, Kim, told the story of a man who could have responded to gang violence in the neighborhood surrounding his factory by purchasing a gun. Instead, he wrote messages on basketballs and gave them to neighborhood youth. He could have used a sword but he chose not to do so. Instead, he chose to use plowshares, in the form of basketballs. Jesus said in the sermon on the mount, “‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.’” (Matt. 5:9 NRSV).
Each of us has a choice, every day, whether to use swords or plowshares, to be agents of conflict or peacemakers. Isaiah wrote, “The effect of righteousness will be peace,” (Isa. 32:17a NRSV). We can show righteousness by choosing peace. We can demonstrate our faith by choosing plowshares. Jesus told his disciples, “‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.’” (John 14:27a NRSV). Jesus brought a new understanding of what peace means. It doesn’t come from us, it comes from God. If we choose peace, if we choose plowshares, if we “hold our peace” in trying situations, we can show the power of the risen Christ to transform lives and reshape our world.
“He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isa. 2:4 NRSV.)