Do you think Donald Trump wants peace?
I know it’s hard to tell, sometimes, with all the rhetoric, the bluster, the seeming lack of awareness of consequences, the arrogance, ego and all that other stuff that makes up the Trump persona. But, deep down, do you think he really wants peace?
What about Kim Jong Un? Or Putin? al-Assad? How about that neo-nazi guy who’s speaking at the University of Florida this week?
How about your next door neighbour?
While it may seem like there are people who enjoy, even thrive, on conflict of all kinds, my point is simply this: I think people do want peace, but they want it on their own terms, by their own definition, to their own benefit. And why wouldn’t we? We’re human beings, after all, and our tendency is to orient things to ourselves. We need to be constantly reminding ourselves of our connectedness, our shared responsibility, our shared love.
I think Trump does want peace, as do many of the others and, I hope, your neighbour. The thing is, I think Trump’s idea of peace is that we will all acknowledge his immense power and huge superiority, do as he commands and behave as he says we should. If we all just did what he says and were able to meet his expectations, everything would be just fine. You might see the flaw there.
I wonder if that isn’t a common one, though. From personal relationships to cultural and national ones, power is what brings the ability to impose “peace” – based on the values of the one with the most power.
But is that true peace or is it simply the forced end to conflict?
Jesus had some thought about that. I think one of those thoughts is revealed in the story of leaders of the temple trying to trap him with a question about Jews paying taxes to the Romans. Yes, I know that sounds like a financial issue, but hear me out. Jesus asks for a Roman coin and questions them on who’s face is on the coin. When they answer that it’s the emperor’s, he tells them to give the emperor what is the emperor’s and give God what is God’s. A clever answer because it avoids the obvious trap: if he says yes, he offends his Jewish followers, if he says no, he’s breaking the Roman law.
So, good for Jesus for being clever, but is that really an answer? If God is the one true God, the creator, the giver of life and all things, then the right answer is surely that all things belong to God. That’s what Jesus teaches, but it’s not what he says here. So why didn’t he?
I wonder if the real meaning of this story isn’t exactly that, to point out that we think and value in a worldly way. The answer that impressed the pharisees in the story – those that opposed Jesus – was in those terms. The coin is important, not because of it’s monetary value, but precisely because the emperor’s image is on it. It represents power, very earthly, very concrete power, the power of the empire that rules their land. We might want to remind ourselves that way back in the beginning of Genesis, our creation narrative says we are created in the image of God. Which of those images should be most important to us?
Maybe we should look at peace the same way. We “make peace” with earthly power and priorities when we are called, in the image of God, to make peace as Jesus did, with an open heart, and open mind, a willingness to know more about each other and a willingness to build real relationships, not break them down. Peace isn’t imposed, it’s built and it’s shared together. That starts with each of us. Like the classic song says: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”