Reflection from the Rev'd David Warnes for Sunday 18th October 2020 St.Luke's Day

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 17/10/2020 - 11:10

St Luke Year A 2020 Good Shepherd

I wonder how many of you used to enjoy the Peanuts cartoon strip by the American artist Charles M. Schulz – the cartoons which featured Charlie Brown and Snoopy, the dog who fantasized about being a First World War fighter ace. Schulz was a lifelong church attender and a Sunday School teacher. He comes to mind today, as we celebrate the Feast of the Evangelist St Luke, because today’s Gospel reading was his favourite passage from the New Testament. It’s a reading which encourages us to think about the nature of peace.

When Jesus instructs the disciples about how to conduct themselves on the mission on which he is sending them, he tells them:

“Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.”

It’s a strange and profound saying, for it suggests that peace is something tangible, something that the disciples can carry and offer to people; something which may be accepted or rejected but which is not diminished by rejection. It is the person who rejects the peace who misses out, not the person who offers it.

Peace has many meanings. The peace of which Jesus speaks here is not an absence of noise, nor an absence of worries; not even an absence of conflict. The Hebrew word shalom, translated as peace, means much more than that. An American Rabbi, Robert Kahn, defined it thus:

One can dictate a peace; shalom is a mutual agreement.

Peace is a temporary pact; shalom is a permanent agreement.

One can make a peace treaty; shalom is the condition of peace.

Peace can be negative, the absence of commotion.

shalom is positive, the presence of serenity.

Peace can be partial; shalom is whole.

Peace can be piecemeal; shalom is complete.

An ancient and reliable tradition has it that St Luke was a physician. His Gospel has plenty of medical detail in it and many stories of healing, and it is likely that his presence with the imprisoned Paul, mentioned in today’s Epistle, was helpful for that reason, as well as for the spiritual support that he offered. For Luke, healing was far more than the curing of medical conditions. It was a restoration to wholeness, a restoration to community, a process intimately bound up with forgiveness. Healing was, in short, a re-establishing of shalom.

Today’s Gospel makes clear that shalom requires us to be both generous bearers of peace and willing recipients of it. Shalom is a two-way street.

“Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.”

To be a willing recipient of peace is not easy, for it involves acknowledging our needs – our need of healing, our need of forgiveness, our need of both the benefits and demands, the joys, the sorrows and the vulnerabilities of being in relationships.

To be a bearer and a giver of peace is no less difficult, for that involves an openness to and a discernment of the needs of others; a willingness to meet those needs. The Jesus of whom we read in Luke’s Gospel has a complete understanding of the people whom he encounters. He offers them shalom in the form of healing and forgiveness.

One of the characters in the Charlie Brown cartoons is a girl called Lucy van Pelt. She is a pretty acidic person whose mission in life is to deflate other people, including her long-suffering friend Charlie. Lucy is not a bearer or giver of shalom. In one of their encounters Lucy says:

“You know what I see when I look at you, Charlie Brown? I see failure written all over your face!”

There’s an approach to Christian evangelism which might be called the Lucy van Pelt approach because it starts by telling people that they are sinners and that they are badly in need of salvation. You may have encountered it on your own doorstep or in the form of one of those sandwich- board carriers whose sign says: “Repent for the end is nigh”. It wasn’t Jesus’ way, as today’s Gospel makes clear, and it shouldn’t be ours. Rather we are called to share the peace of Christ, to share what we encounter and receive in the Eucharist.

Charles M. Schulz understood that well. Lucy’s words to Charlie were cutting and judgmental:

“You know what I see when I look at you, Charlie Brown? I see failure written all over your face!”

Charlie Brown’s response was profoundly wise:

“Just look at my face...don’t write on it!”

Our calling is to do, as best we can, what Jesus did – to discern the needs of others and respond to them. That is the tangible gift of healing peace that we can offer in the hope that it will be accepted. That is a peace which is far more than the security for which all human beings long, more even than the absence of conflict which would be such a blessing in Yemen, Nagorno- Karabakh and other places. It is a costly peace because it involves the risk of reaching out in trust to those who are different, being open to their needs and their fears. And the starting point for that is:

“Just look at my face, don’t write on it!” Amen.