Peace in the Luke’s Gospel

Peace is a central concern of Luke’s gospel, and is often linked with “glory.”  The well-known Christmas phrase has “Glory to God in the highest, meanwhile peace on earth to people of good will.”  Paul Minear has suggested a direct correlation between these two: “the more glory the more peace, and the more peace the more glory.”  

The most peace-dense section of Luke’s gospel is the central journey narrative, when Jesus sends out seventy (or perhaps 72) of his followers to preach and heal in his name.  He tells them, 

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a child of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say,  ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.

Willard Swartley, commenting on this passage, observes that “a peace response becomes the criterion by which the people receive [either] the kingdom of God or condemnation.”  Moreover, Swartley argues that by reintroducing the peace theme at this central juncture (as Jesus begins the journey toward Jerusalem), Luke is highlighting that Jesus’ whole mission was one of preaching peace.

Thus the journey toward Jerusalem begins with the proclamation of peace.  As Jesus approaches Jerusalem in chapter 19, peace is again a theme, and again tied to glory in heaven.  The crowds sing “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”  The shout is like a chorus’s response to the angels’ proclamation in 2:14.  Earth answers heaven and accepts its king.  

Except that the religious leaders want to quash this acceptance, to silence the crowds.  To this Jesus responds that if they don’t shout it out, the stones will cry it.   Swartley summarizes the narrative flow at this point:

Jesus comes as king, ringing heaven’s bells of peace; a sea of followers has confessed it. But the outcry may also indicate an abortive dimension: the peace has not been welcomed by all on earth. Hence, in sharp contrast to the mood of the praising multitude, Jesus laments over Jerusalem and pronounces judgment: “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes” (v. 42). The harsh words of judgment upon the city end with the sad explanatory comment: “because you did not recognize the  time of your visitation from God” (v. 44). (Emphasis added)

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