6th Sunday of Easter C
There is a rivalry, a contest that spans throughout the Gospels. It is between Jesus Christ and Caesar, the emperor of Rome. The two figures could not be more different, but both desire the same thing – the allegiance and devotion of all the world. If they were introduced as boxers coming into the arena, Caesar would be carried by his followers and the announcer would thunder, “Now entering, the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, the dominator, ruler of an empire that stretches from sea to sea, Caesar! And in the other corner, a scrappy young carpenter’s son from Nazareth, Jesus Christ.” It looks like a mismatch. All the power of Caesar is manifest in power, money and armies. So we are left with the question: how did Jesus win?
Jesus and the early church were very intentional in boldly setting up this contrast. He said, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God,” (Matthew 22:21) believing that all things belong to God. His entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday imitates a Roman general coming into a city that he has conquered. (A symbol sure to pique the interest of the Roman authorities.) And we recall Jesus’ warning, “No one can serve two masters.” (Matthew 6:24) The Church insisted that their members know their primary loyalty lies with the Lord and not the Emperor.
Two titles tell the story of the rivalry. The Roman Emperor was known at the Son of God because they proclaimed the previous emperor was elevated to divine status romping among the other pagan gods. This of course gave Caesar greater authority on earth because he would someday have power beyond it. Jesus too claimed to be the Son of God because he actually was, citing that unique relationship with the Father. His status allowed everyone to know and be like God. In the Roman religion, the Emperor became god. In Christ, we were all raised up to God.
The other title is “Prince of Peace.” The Emperor claimed the title because he enforced the “Pax Romana,”the brutal peace that suppressed any challenge to Roman power whether an uprising at the edge of the Empire or a poor Galilean peasant who posed a vague threat. The cross is a taste of the peace of Caesar, a peace only defined by what was best for Rome.
Jesus offers a different kind of peace. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” Not as Caesar offers peace. Jesus peace allows our hearts not to be troubled or afraid. It is the guarantee of God for if we keep his word the Father and the Son “will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” The peace of Christ is the gift of the Holy Spirit, the very spirit that animated Christ and surges within us. This is done for us, not to us. This is the peace of promise, not the threat of violence. This is the peace that allows us to become our best selves; the peace that makes us free; the peace that will last forever. Rome would fall. The peace of Christ never fails. It can never be taken away.
Yet, there are times when I want the peace of Caesar. When I want everyone to bow to my will and simply know it would be better for everyone, especially for me. There are times when I want the elusive peace of Caesar which is control and nothing else will satisfy me. My heart then is always troubled and afraid for any loss of control threatens my peace. I am always anxious because my peace is so vulnerable.
The peace of Christ cedes control to God and we say, “I trust in you.” It reminds us that we are beautiful and strong. It is a promise that we are never alone or forgotten. It is the truest peace of all, knowing we can live forever. In the end, there is only one peace. Let us choose the peace of Christ.