I’ve always been intrigued by Luke’s account of Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. It’s the beginning of Holy Week, what we usually call Palm Sunday.
Luke records that as Jesus approaches Jerusalem, he sees the city and weeps. Jesus then says,
If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.
Jesus is lamenting that most of the people shouting hosanna during this joyous procession would reject him before the week was over. Many would call for his crucifixion.
More strikingly, many commentaries on this passage suggest that by rejecting Jesus these people are also rejecting the peace with God that Jesus came to deliver.
This passage takes on a much stronger meaning if we understand what Jesus meant when he used the word “peace.”
The Greek word here is the word eirene, from which we get the name Irene. When New Testament writers wrote eirene, they were thinking of the Old Testament Hebrew word shalom.
In his book Not The Way It’s Supposed To Be: A Breviary of Sin, Cornelius Plantinga gives the best definition of shalom that I have come across:
Shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness and delight – a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.
So what Jesus really says in this passage from Luke is, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you shalom.” These people are about to reject Jesus, the only person who can restore creation to the way it’s supposed to be.
Shalom is the the one thing everyone desperately seeks and will never find apart from Christ. Jonathan Pennington writes,
This concept has staying power and universal voice because it addresses what is most basic and innate to all of humanity, despite the diversity of race, culture, and values. It is a concept that proves to be the motivating force and end goal of all that humans do and think. This idea or theme can be identified as human flourishing.
Pennington further states:
Human flourishing alone is the idea that encompasses all human activity and goals because there is nothing so natural and inescapable as the desire to live, and to live in peace, security, love, health, and happiness. These are not merely cultural values or the desire of a certain people or time period. The desire for human flourishing motivates everything humans do…. All human behavior, when analyzed deeply enough, will be found to be motivated by the desire for life and flourishing, individually and corporately.
Shalom and eirene have a broad vision of human flourishing because, as Tim Keller writes in Generous Justice, “human flourishing and well-being are ultimately a function of God’s saving work.” God’s plan of redemption is rightly described as shalom/eirene because the result is human flourishing.
Through his death and resurrection, Jesus took the first steps towards restoring shalom to all of God’s creation. We long for him to return and finish this work he started so long ago. We should remember the work he has called us to do while we eagerly await his return.
After writing to the Corinthians about the resurrection, the Apostle Paul concludes,
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)
That labor encompasses all the work God has called us to do in our families, our churches, our communities, and our vocations. When we do this work in a way that glorifies God and serves the common good, we give others a glimpse of the shalom Christ secured for us on Easter morning.