The Ways of Shalom

These five weeks of passages extol the depth, breadth, and living power of shalom—the biblical peace for humanity and all that lives.

Paul enters into this shalom when he envisions “one new humanity in the place of the two” (Ephesians 2:15). Jesus distributes its life-giving wholeness to 5,000 through an abundance of loaves and fishes. Shalom is everything that leads toward a coherent, ever-expanding community based on trust that the earth, and all that is in it, is the Lord’s (Psalm 24:1).

To live in God’s shalom is to strive for peace-giving justice while surrounded by uncertainty. Even as we live in a time of frightening unknowns, the biblical period of the judges—the last of whom is Samuel—is instructive. The judges were rulers, heroes, and defenders of monotheism after Joshua led the people into the Promised Land and before the first kings of Israel.

In these five readings from 2 Samuel, we move from an elegy for Saul into the time of David and a striving for true unity in community. Alas, David is all too human. Human kingdoms—even divinely inspired ones—are fallible. Thankfully, God is merciful. Jesus Christ is sent to embody shalom and model its ways, transforming tragedy at every turn. Then, as now, peace is possible.

Robert Roth is a writer and social activist in East Lansing, Michigan.

July 2

Cries for Help

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27; Psalm 130; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43

Here is how shalom begins: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice! (Psalm 130:1-2).

It starts with David’s mournful lament over the “beloved and lovely” (2 Samuel 1:23), Paul’s exasperated entreaty to the gifted Corinthians, and petitions from a worried father and a hemorrhaging woman. The shouts and shrieks of the faithful acknowledge their dependence on God. God’s response to those calls takes many forms, from healing and justice to plates overflowing with food.

The cries in David’s elegy, the psalmist’s hymn, and a father who simply wants his daughter to live might turn our thoughts today to the current pleas of hardworking migrants and safety-seeking immigrants. Perhaps the iniquities of an arrogant Israel and a self-satisfied Corinth church might also cause us to question the vanity of a border-guarding United States.

Sometimes “illegals” and petitioning aliens are dependent for their survival upon God’s grace via a wealthy nation’s generosity. After all, every meal each of us enjoys owes more to God’s providential shalom than to our snazzy ingenuity. Issues concerning “guest workers” are complex, to be sure. Yet consider that in 2004 the median hourly wage for a worker in Mexico was $1.86, compared with $9 for a Mexican worker in the U.S. during the same period. May we truly hear their cries for help.

July 9

Savoring Unity

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10; Psalm 48; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13

Amid trout streams, tropical birds, and banana farms, the Nasa Indians of southern Colombia offer daily testament to the lush reality of God’s shalom. Their self-sustaining community of about 100,000 not only savors creation, but demonstrates unity as a peaceful people echoing God’s word to Paul in Corinthians: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

The Nasa Indians demonstrate the transformative energy of shalom, even caught between the vicious Colombian army and right-wing paramilitaries on one side and violent anti-government Marxist rebels on the other. The 7,000 women and men of the Nasa people’s Indigenous Guard protect their vast reservation by marching up to both government and rebels and drawing what they consider their most powerful weapon: conversation. And they are consistently successful! The Nasa people won praise at the United Nations for their many years of nonviolence.

There is this peculiar unity that flowers as David becomes king over Israel and Judah, Paul boasts of weakness in Christ’s power, and Jesus is rejected by his own kin in his hometown. This unity trades violence, domination, and entrenched, stifling norms for the power of love that “reaches to the ends of the [trout-filled] earth” (Psalm 48:10).

July 16

Well-Being Amid Tragedy

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12-19; Psalm 24; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29

Sometimes shalom is sustained by a vision. In 2 Samuel, David dances with his people to the songs of harps and trumpets as the ark is brought to Jerusalem. The ark—that symbol of God’s peaceful providence over all the tribes of the faithful—is presumably with the choir singing in Psalm 24. During good times, we are to remember that “the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it” (Psalm 24:1).

In Mark 6, we witness bad times and humanity at its worst. Herod Antipas (ruler of Galilee during Jesus’ time), Herodias, and Salome live out an axis of evil that results in John the Baptist’s decapitation. Where is shalom now? Just as David’s dancing and the psalmist’s singing offer a reprieve from past and future violence and injustice, this is a moment in which humanity can neither see nor accept the harmony, wholeness, and hope that is shalom.

The epistle brings us full circle to an affirmation of God’s intention to “gather up all things in [God], things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10). All things. All realities, good or bad. All people, broken or whole.

Shalom in wartime 2006? We first mourn the tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians who have died. We then carry a vision of well-being for the hundreds of U.S. soldiers missing limbs and the thousands who have suffered brain injuries as they begin new lives. And we work to end the war.

July 23

Living Memories

2 Samuel 7:1-14; Psalm 89:20-37; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

“And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth” (2 Samuel 7:9). There comes a time to simply receive blessing, recognize what God has done, and take on the identity of a people under the rule of God’s love and care.

As warfare subsides, David desires to build a temple to house the ark of the Lord. He then learns that the identity the people carry with them will maintain the peace better than anything they can physically construct.

Paul sees the power of identity in the work of shalom as he says of Jesus, “he is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14). Even as David united Israel and Judah, Jesus brings together Jew and Gentile: “So he proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” (Ephesians 2:17).

The gospel finds Jesus calling the apostles away from their strivings to rest for a while. This time and space for Sabbath rest is also for those times when shalom is simply to be accepted and affirmed. Out of peaceful rest, healing ministry emerges.

Efforts to build a memorial in Washington, D.C., to that great Christian peacemaker Martin Luther King Jr. seem to be dragging. The good news is that the best memorials already exist in those who live King’s truth: “I believe,” he said in accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, “that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.”

July 30

A Wide Embrace

2 Samuel 11:1-15; Psalm 145:10-18; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21

Moving from Mark’s gospel to John’s, Jesus is again shalom personified. This passage connects the authentic peace of all being fed, on the one hand, to the faithful calm of Jesus on the sea. Feeding on creation and sharing all its goodness, we sit with Jesus as a people reconciled to this web of life and unified with one another.

Throughout the Bible, shalom is a cosmic, earth-based endeavor for the faithful. Ultimately, this vision embraces all creation, which is why earthkeeping is key to peacemaking.

During a recent visit to Lansing, Michigan, Arun Gandhi—Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson—said that “we are interdependent, interrelated, and interconnected. No country in the world can survive by itself if the rest of the world is going down the drain. The only way we can create security for ourselves is by creating it for the rest of the world.” Widening Gandhi’s challenge further, the psalmist calls us to celebrate a God who is busy “satisfying the desire of every living thing” (Psalm 145:16).

Paul invites us to experience “the breadth and length and height and depth” (Ephesians 3:18) of that love that leads to shalom. In that day we shall be one with creation, secure with our neighbors, and resting up for the next journey.

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