As I look forward to a new year, there is one particular part of the message of the Scripture that I want to refocus on: peace and justice, as lived in a life that witnesses against poverty, war, and hatred. Peace and justice are such well-worn words that they almost put us to sleep, but they shouldn’t, because they are the essence of church community, the essence of how Jesus wants us to live.
The importance of these two pillars of Jesus’ message cannot be overstated. The Sermon on the Mount, the parable of the Good Samaritan, even the prophets who foretold Jesus, such as Micah, Ezekiel, Hosea: all make plain that we are to care for each other and for all humankind, and that there will never be peace until we do.
So few churches preach this part of the Gospel with any clarity or force anymore. It’s not a comfortable message. People, even well-meaning Christians, are often so busy providing for themselves, their children and families, that it’s hard for them to grasp that it is possible to live a life of caring brotherhood in this century. But such a life is actually the solution to their woes. As Eberhard Arnold wrote almost one hundred years ago:
The spirit of God must be poured out over the crushed and downtrodden also to remove their suffering. His justice and righteousness will bring peace; swords and spears will be beaten into tools for peaceful work. No nation will lift up weapons against another. No one will prepare for war anymore. The king of justice will obliterate all war chariots and weapons, for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of God as the waters fill the sea.
When peace conquers, it means the abolition of wealth as much as of armed force. Both powers wield enormous influence, but faith stands against them and conquers. Faith meets with deeper understanding among the poor than among the rich. The will to peace is strongest and most genuine where poverty of goods goes hand in hand with the hunger and thirst of spiritual poverty. The kingdom of God will bring fairness and brotherliness. It will bind in complete unity all those whose longing hearts hunger for justice and righteousness. For this reason wealth and all surfeit must be dispersed (Innerland).
Peace and justice are inextricably intertwined. As Christians, we can’t just “pray for peace in the world” or donate to charities, hoping that such meager actions will end the unrest that plagues so many places. We need to practice economic justice, watching our standard of living so that we do not consume more than our share of our planet’s resources. We need to strive toward racial and social and class justice too, but political compromises and governments are not to be trusted in; we will find no answer in the politics of our day. Where we will find it is in Jesus’ redemption of our own personal lives, which will free us from greed so visibly that people will ask what it is that we live for (see 1 Peter 3:15).
My hope for the New Year is that we are on fire for Jesus’ message of peace and justice so much so that it evokes the notice, and perhaps even the scorn, of our friends and neighbors. Aren’t we promised great blessings when others revile and persecute us on Jesus account? (Matt. 5:11) If we don’t sacrifice something, we will gain nothing. Let us work for the kingdom of God so vigorously that it produces results – and reactions.
Milton and his wife Alexandra are in their eighties and live at the Woodcrest Bruderhof. For many years Milton was a primary-care physician, but now their primary role is as grandparents – and great-grandparents.