December 19, 1995
“If those who want peace are just as interested in success, popularity and power as those who want war, what then is the difference between war and peace?” (H. Nouwen)
Good question. It interests me that Jesus Christ offered both war and peace. He said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” but also said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you.”
Why the contradiction? Was Jesus interested only in results and not at all concerned with the means used to get them? Did it matter to Him whether He became popular with promises of peace or powerful with promises of a sword? What was He trying to say?
Some think Jesus enjoyed popularity but when it leveled off, He and His disciples concocted a plot — if He “died” and “rose from the dead” no one would ever forget Him. In other words, Jesus was no different than anyone else who seeks personal success, fame and power. Securing a name for Himself and a following was the most important thing.
If Jesus was interested only in success, popularity and power, He had to be mentally warped. Nothing He did secured any of those three. The world, even in His day, measures success by wealth and position. Jesus was a mere carpenter and an itinerant preacher who died without owning any land or houses, only the clothes on His back. He was penniless.
Popularity is measured by the number of people who like you and stick with you. It is not the same as notoriety. If Jesus wanted only to be popular, why then did He make decisions that caused even His closest friends to misunderstand Him and eventually desert Him?
Power was measured in His day by the size of a man’s army and the number of His weapons. Jesus had no army. His power was kindness and forgiveness, with which He gathered a following of fishermen, tax collectors, prostitutes, and other “low life” of society who hardly fit anyone’s idea of an army.
Even the “power” He had had no influence on Jewish leaders, except a few who were too afraid to let anyone know they followed Him. He also had no influence over political leaders. Herod tried to kill Him as a baby, and subsequent Roman leaders willingly allowed the Jews to crucify Him. Even on the cross, Jesus did not choose power. The crowds mocked Him saying, “You saved others... come down... save yourself” but He refused to call out for help, either to His Father or to “legions of angels.”
Was Jesus’ idea of success twisted? No, but His concept was different. He knew the Scripture said, “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” To Him, success was obeying everything God said. He was successful at doing that.
Jesus did not have a twisted idea of popularity either. He simply was not as concerned with the applause of men as He was with pleasing God. The Apostle Paul later wrote, “I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God....” Of Him, God said, “This is My Beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.” Jesus was popular — with the One Person who counts.
As for power, the Bible says Jesus had no human armies and even though He could have called on angels to deliver Him from death, He instead affirmed that spiritual might is not in swords and spears. The Bible says the “weakness of God (in becoming a vulnerable man and dying) is stronger than men.” His death accomplished the purpose of God in providing redemption for sinful man. However, His “weakness was not permanent. Jesus also has the “power of an endless life” — and He lives and reigns forever at the right hand of His Father.
Rather than challenge the difference between those who want war and those who want peace, Nouwen would be wise to inquire about different views of success, popularity and power. He might discover it is possible, even in the midst of conflict, to have peace.