Seeking Peace in our Relationships
by Rev Jacky Quarmby 1 April 2022
Reading: Zaachaeus 19: 1 – 10
In our relationships with other people, how do we respond when someone hurts us or annoys us or treats us unfairly. Do we lash out and seek some kind of revenge or do we forgive them and reach out to them. Zaachaeus was a dishonest and greedy tax-collector, so the people around Zaachaeus shunned him and treated him with contempt. It was what he deserved. But their attitude just cemented Zaachaeus’ behaviour. It was only when Jesus reached out to him, that Zaachaeus’ life was changed. Such is the miracle of grace.
I don’t know how many of you have seen the musical “Les Miserables”. It’s written by Victor Hugo and tells the story of Jean Valjean. Jean was sentenced to 19 years of hard labour for stealing bread and while in prison, he became tough and hard. When he was released, he spent four days wandering the village roads trying to find somewhere to stay – but because he was a convict and had to carry an identity card, no one wanted to give him shelter. Then one night a kindly bishop took pity on him and took him into his home. That night after the bishop had gone to sleep, Jean crept out of bed, went down to the bishop’s study and made off with the family silver. The next morning, three policemen knocked on the bishop’s door – they had caught Jean in full flight and were ready to throw him back into prison for life.
But the bishop said, “Oh, here you are. I’m delighted to see you. Had you forgotten that I gave you the silver candlesticks as well – they’re worth a good 200 francs. Did you forget to take them? This man is no thief ... this silver is my gift to him.”
After the police had gone, the bishop said to Jean, “Do not ever forget that you have promised me to use this money to make yourself an honest man.”
That act of forgiveness by the bishop changed Jean Valjean’s life forever. Jean kept those candlesticks to remind himself of the promise that he had made and he spent the rest of his life helping others in need.
Well, it’s just a story – but it’s a story that mirrors reality. Grace changes lives. Try it and see. Next time someone hurts you, don’t try and get your own back, have compassion on them and forgive them. Go out of your way to be kind to that person as if nothing has happened. Try to overcome evil with good. At the least, it will confuse them, but it may well change their life.
I want to finish with some words of Jesus taken from Matthew 5 (The Message version)
“You’re familiar with the old written law, “Love your friends,” and its unwritten companion “Hate your enemy”. I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are living as a child of God. This is what God does. He gives his best – the sun to warm and the rain to nourish – to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the loveable, do you expect a bonus. Anyone can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal. Anybody can do that. “In a word, what I’m saying is, you’re my followers. Now live like it. Live generously and graciously towards others, the way God lives towards you.”
Song: Put peace into each other’s hands
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We may not have the voice to silence the noise of war,
or the words to negotiate peace between armies;
But, as we follow you, O Christ, we are able to do something.
May we bring peace through small acts of gentleness and reconciliation;
May we bring wealth through small contributions and collaborations;
May we bring safety through small acts of consideration and acceptance;
May we bring wholeness through small acts of care and service.
In the small ways, O God,
may we make a big contribution
to your saving work in our world. Amen.
(adapted from a prayer by John van de Laar)