In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus says that He gives peace “Not as the world gives…” In the Christian context, the’ world’ typically means the powers, principalities, people, and the various ways they organize, which are opposed to God.
When the world gives something, it does so with strings attached. The world gives with conditions. The world gives because it wants something in return. Your company gives you a raise because they want to incentivize you to keep making more money for them. You get elected to an office or chosen for a leadership position because of what people think you will do for them.
The world gives things in a backhanded way. In a certain sense, the world does not really give at all. Because there is never a net gain of anything meaningful or lasting when we trade with the world. Two worldly powers might agree to a peaceable end to armed conflict. But this agreement will be for the sake of economic or political expediency, and will only last until one side believes it can take advantage of the other side again. A large and well-known company will sponsor a charitable event or champion some cause, not for the sake of the suffering and not for genuine justice. The company takes these ‘rational’ market actions for the sole means of increasing profit. Such a company will flit about from one cause to the next, marching to the beat of the Wall Street drummer. They only care about one thing, and it is not giving anything. After all, return on investment is not about giving.
No, the world does not give; the world takes. Peace cannot come from any worldly source or mechanism. Nothing in creation, no matter how grand, can satisfy our deepest longing. No creature can deliver us lasting happiness. Only the unconditional, infinite, everlasting love of God can bring us happiness. Only the peace given by the Son of God can bring true peace to our lives and rest for our souls. All other paths become subtly winding roads filled with shiny objects and distractions that eventuate in our demise. Only when our souls find rest from earthly desires, selfishness, and greedy ambition can peace reign. Peace reigns from above and comes to us. As we receive it, we are transformed. Those who spurn divine peace in Christ in favor of worldly peace will, after many pulls on the rope, find only a dry well.