Peace Which the World Cannot Give – Br. Keith Nelson

Br. Keith Nelson

John 14:27-31a

Peace – as we ordinarily understand that word — is often very hard work. Whether it is the resolution of conflict between nations or ethnic groups, or an inward psychological disposition leading to deeper wellbeing, peace is usually work-in-progress. It is no secret that these two forms of peace are deeply interrelated. The crucial work of social peace (negotiating peace, organizing peace, facilitating peace, instituting peace) only maintains a superficial and tenuous harmony if there is no on-the-ground commitment to interior peace, the kind that changes lives from the inside out. Countless civil disobedience movements have demonstrated the power of non-violent action when it is steeped in spiritual intention and grounded in a peace that no oppressor can give or take away. 

 The peace of Jesus was a living, inner presence that challenged, changed, and empowered his followers to seek the peace “which the world cannot give.” This inner presence inevitably brought Jesus into conflict with the ambient culture of violent occupation around him. The religious leaders who benefitted from their quiet complicity no doubt had a very different understanding of shalom. Rather than a dynamic, empowering presence, “peace” meant maintaining a broken system with minimal disturbance to received tradition. 

Jesus says to his gathered disciples: 

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 

Jesus, knowing that his death is imminent, bequeathes his own Peace to his inner circle, who will so desperately need it in the midst of the suffering and death about to break upon them like a tidal wave. 

Like most of the sections of Jesus’s lengthy farewell discourse, this specific section is prompted by a question: “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?” The first part of Jesus’s reply focuses on the gift of the Paraclete or Advocate, the Holy Spirit who “will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you.” The gift of Jesus’s Peace is a highly related but ultimately distinct gift. And while the gift of Peace participates in the tradition of shalom as both greeting and farewell, this Peace is a promise of ongoing presence because it harkens to the gift of Peace inaugurated by the Messiah: the righteous rule of the “Prince of Peace,” which will be eternal. 

Marianne Meye Thompson notes that in this Farewell Discourse of Jesus, the world is almost always mentioned in the same breath as the promised Holy Spirit. Similarly, Jesus here explains, “I do not give to you as the world gives,” immediately following his twice-repeated gift of his own Peace. While the term “world,” or kosmos, in John’s gospel is a bit elastic in its meaning, it takes on an unequivocally threatening character in John’s closing chapters. A dense energy of worldliness threatens to obscure or corrode the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The world “hates” Jesus’s followers just as it hates Jesus. Thompson sees “the world” in the Farewell Discourse as both the “source of opposition” facing the followers of Jesus and the “arena” in which their witness to the gospel must unfold. As such, it remains a perpetual challenge for the Church to grapple with in every generation.[i]

It is very easy to be seduced by a peace that is not Christ’s, but rather a false peace that is of the world. There are at least three forms this might take:

We often seek permanent, lasting peace in places we will never find it, or will find only provisional peace: a political party, financial security, a beautiful house, a romantic partnership, a career promotion, retirement, a new ministry, a denomination of the Church, our liturgical preferences, our physical or mental talents. The list can grow quite long. It sometimes helps to honestly assess the direction in which we are seeking ultimate peace. “Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth, for there is no help in them,” writes the Psalmist, and there are endless variations on this theme in scripture. Horses? No. Chariots? No. Riches? Nope. All of these will fail us. If we look to provisional or temporal things for ultimate peace, we are likely to wake up itchy, restless and dissatisfied when they disappoint us. These paths toward peace are often onramps or runways toward the Peace that is Christ’s Peace. But our trust in these things is provisional because it is light, gentle, and acknowledges human frailty – others’ and our own. 

We often seek to “build” peace with the hope of arriving at a lasting, permanent solution in the sheer strength of our own efforts. As a form of service to humanity this is a noble and selfless motive. But if we are not co-creating paths toward peace with Jesus, we are pursuing the world’s peace. Participating in the Peace of Christ requires a patience and a persistence that only Christ can supply. It demands an attentive eye to recognize where Christ’s Peace is already breaking forth as slow growth unassisted by our well-organized efforts, and asks only for us to bear witness. 

We often wish, aspire, or pray to arrive at an interior peace that is a “once and for all” accomplishment. If we establish the right spiritual practices with the right frequency and depth, if we follow the right Rule of Life, if we say “yes” to every opportunity to be of service, if we worship God with deep enough focus and sincerity of heart every day, maybe we’ll reach a plane of permanent spiritual peace where we no longer swear in traffic or eat too much dessert or judge ourselves for our mistakes or make superficial assumptions about people. As far as I can tell, such a Peace does not exist this side of heaven. I do believe that the Spirit works in us a slow purification of the will that renders certain habitual sins a lot less interesting than they once were. But until then, I think that following Jesus opens us to receive his Peace in the midst of our flaws, not in spite of them. We hold the treasure of Christ’s Peace in clay jars, as grateful sinners. 

As recipients of the Peace of Jesus, we have been given – in trust – the defining gift of Jesus’s now-and-future reign. Hearing Jesus invite me to make use of his Peace – a Peace already entrusted to me – changes my understanding of the adventure and challenge of peace-making in a very unpeaceful world. Making peace becomes consenting to Christ’s peace-making process wherever it is unfolding. Making peace becomes receiving Peace and being Peace. Only then can Christ use you and me to give Peace – a Peace which will remain his alone, but will change us each time we give it away, and each time we pass it around in our Eucharistic feast. 

I give to you the Peace of Christ – a Peace which the world cannot give. 

I give you the unshakable sanity and unflappable presence of Christ.

I give the Peace that saves you and me from all inner and outer persecution and from every stone the world may hurl your way. 

I give you a Peace that will never falter or fade, and will carry you all the way Home.

The Peace of Christ be with you. 

[i]Marianne Meye Thompson. John: A Commentary. p. 313. 

Support SSJE

Please support the Brothers work.
The brothers of SSJE rely on the inspired kindness of friends to sustain our life and our work. We are grateful for the prayers and support provided to us.

Click here to Donate


  1. Julianne Lindemann on January 15, 2024 at 11:12

    Dear Br Keith, thank you for these words of “unshakable sanity”.

    In my experience, interior peace abides when we consecrate our lives to doing the will of God by accepting God’s invitation to be a branch on the true vine of Jesus. Striving precisely there to bear fruit, in close partnership with Jesus, I experience healing, guidance, encouragement, strength and companionship. And yes, love, joy and peace.

    Taking on this role as a way of life, in devotion to Jesus’ commands to love, forgive and serve, is an intentional and life altering decision. What a relief to have made that decision!

    Blessings and peace to you.

  2. John G. on January 18, 2021 at 17:57

    Martin Luther King said,”Peace is not merely the absence of tension but the presence of justice.” He challenges us to work for justice out of an inner peace “which the world cannot give.” I agree with Brother Keith that peace, for me at least, is not achieved through worldly means or even through the right religious practices. I feel that this homily suggests that I look for peace in the example of Jesus by means of the Holy Spirit. What that means to me is letting go of the many things I think will bring me peace and participating in conversation with the Lord through His Word and sacraments. For me, there is societal aspect to this peace, as Dr. King would say, that implies dialogue with the other and service to my neighbor. I confess to being baffled as to how to proceed in this time of social separation; and yet there are opportunities, I am convinced, if I would listen to the still, small voice.

  3. Alison Inglis on January 18, 2021 at 11:32

    This is so timely after the Capitol storming! My one aim is “if at all possible to be at peace with all people”. But it can only happen dwelling in and with Him. It’s a tall order, but the only way! Thank you so much for this reminder on true peace.

  4. Jane Steer on January 18, 2021 at 03:39

    Thank you for this wonderful reminder that first we have to receive and keep on receiving Christ’s peace and that we hold this peace and His presence in jars of Clay . But it is because we are cracked and broken that His light can shine through.

  5. Ham Hackney on April 29, 2020 at 18:52

    “I do believe that the Spirit works in us a slow purification of the will that renders certain habitual sins a lot less interesting than they once were.”

    In that message of hope, I can find some Peace, indeed. Thank you!

  6. Jane Nash on April 29, 2020 at 12:57

    thank you Brother Keith. Your words “Making Peace becomes receiving Peace & being Peace” are amongst the simplest yet most profound I’ve read in a very long time. Thank you again.

  7. Jeanne DeFazio on April 29, 2020 at 08:45

    Sharing this incredible reaching today!

    God bless!


  8. Jaan Sass on June 16, 2019 at 07:54

    This is so true I keep thinking if I follow the rule better or I go to this service I will be calm and have no manic episode. I play music loud so I will not hear the mania creeping in. I guess letting it go is my only way to peace. Thank you for reminding me Peace begins with Christ.

    • Ann Trousdale on April 29, 2020 at 07:49

      Your description of what the church calls sanctification is wonderful! It’s a process I believe Paul realized in his own journey too. Witness Romans 7–and 8.

Leave a Comment