In John’s gospel, on Easter evening we find the disciples locked away because they were afraid of the religious leaders. Suddenly, Jesus comes to them and speaks: “Peace to you!” The word peace is likely meant to carry the sense of the Hebrew word shalom, which doesn’t simply mean an absence of conflict, but rather, as theologian Cornelius Plantinga summarizes, “the way it’s supposed to be.” Shalom was a common greeting among Jews at the time, but, as scholar George Beasley-Murray suggests in his commentary on John, Jesus’ “Shalom!” to his disciples on Easter evening is the perfect complement to his “It is finished!” on the cross. Jesus is coming into the room announcing peace to those for whom he died.
After showing the marks on his hands and his side, making clear the connection between his wounds and the peace he is extending, Jesus announces peace a second time. Then he gives them a commission: “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” Now that Jesus has died and has risen, he gives his disciples work to do. What is this work? It seems that the work is doing what Jesus was doing, in the way that Jesus was doing it. Through his words, actions, and emotions, Jesus was announcing that in him was life, true life. His disciples are to do the same thing.
In his book Christian Mission in the Modern World, John Stott notes that the word “as” in the commission is essential. “The church’s mission is to be modeled on the Son’s,” he writes, “[implying] that we are sent into the world to serve, and that the humble service we render will include for us as it did for Christ both words and works, a concern for the hunger and for the sickness of both body and soul.” People around us have deep needs – of course, an eternal, spiritual need, but also physical, emotional, and relational needs.
I believe that Stott’s paradigm can help us overcome and resolve the frequently experienced tension between “evangelism” on one hand and “social action” on the other. Whatever needs a given individual or community might have, we come as servants to meet those needs. Amy Carmichael, as a missionary to India, saw children sold into prostitution. She thus devoted her life to saving children, and founded a community for liberated girls. Christian ministries like International Justice Mission are doing similar work today.
In our own neighborhoods, in our own city, what are the needs? In his book Generous Justice, Tim Keller suggests that we start by listening to our neighbors. He and his team, as they began to plant Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan, asked two questions of their new neighbors: “What are the needs here that you and the community feel are both chronic and acute?” and “What could we do that would make this neighborhood a better place to live in?”
We know the eternal, spiritual needs of each of our neighbors. Do we know the physical, emotional, or relational needs? What would it look like to come as a servant? It is only then that the true peace – the shalom – of Jesus extends over our communities. There are many Christians in India today because of Amy Carmichael, and many Christians in Manhattan today because of Redeemer Presbyterian. It all started, however, with individuals consumed by the risen Christ, being sent by him just as His Father sent him.