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The Teaching of “Shalom”

In the Hebrew Scriptures, it is God’s promise that “justice and peace shall embrace” (Psalm 85:10). This image is the embodiment of God’s vision for our world — God’s “shalom.” 

The word shalom is often translated as “peace,” but its Hebrew roots imply a deeper meaning. The peace of shalom goes beyond cessation of violence toward a holistic vision of well-being, healing, restoration, and transformation involving all areas of social and economic life.

When we share "Peace" at our eucharistic celebrations, we are, in the four simple words "Peace be with you!," sharing this hope: that whatever needs to happen within you to bring you the healing, restoration, and transformation you need to be(come) all that God calls you to be, that that will indeed happen for you! Our "Amen" in this case is indeed a "Let it be so!"

This calls people to actively participate in God's work and reminds us of two coexisting realities: peace requires justice-making, and justice requires peacemaking. The book of Isaiah describes this process of restorative justice: “They shall turn their swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks" (Isaiah 2:4).


The Sermon on the Mount

The Sermon on the Mount begins with the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-8), which invite us to be blessings to others, reminding them of their own goodness and of God’s companionship in helping them share their blessedness in this life and ultimately to share in the fullness of God’s blessedness in heaven.

Altogether, Jesus calls the following blessed: the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, peacemakers, those who hunger and thirst for justice, and those who are persecuted for justice’s sake or Jesus’ sake. Each of these correct the thirst for vengeance in the face of injury. 

The sermon offers a pattern of naming vicious cycles of violence and uplifting transforming alternatives to break this cycle. For example, Matthew 5:38-42 identifies these three: You have heard an eye for an eye, yet this generates a cycle of retaliating revengefully or resisting violently. Instead, Jesus says to turn the other cheek, give your cloak as well, and go the second mile.

Turning the other cheek was taught in order to surprise the oppressor nonviolently, communicating that one has equal dignity and power. This practice of “turning the other cheek” exposes and then refuses to participate in humiliation and shame of the intended violence.

Those engaging in this practice opt out of the cycle of retaliation and violence, and they transform the situation by offering humanity a “third way” of nonviolent love that justly restores a sense of shared human dignity.

Thus, this practice confronts injustice through love of neighbor, cultivating a critical condition for social justice, and initiating the possibility of reconciliation.


The Woman Caught in Adultery

In John’s Gospel, the woman caught in adultery illustrates how the people were taught by Moses to stone such a woman.

Jesus calms the situation by kneeling and drawing in the dirt, and then says, “Whoever is without sin throw the first stone!” (John 8:1-11). Thus, he shifts the people’s frame from blame and punishment to self-examination and character assessment, as well as from radical “othering” of the target to identification with her.

Since they all recognize their share in sin and walk away, Jesus implies that everyone is caught up and perhaps interconnected in the atmosphere of sin. He then tells the woman, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11).

Therefore, personal and communal healing go hand in hand. It is inadequate to simply privatize responsibility for sin.

Thus, this practice of restorative justice invites each person away from a perception of justice that seeks to inflict further wounds, and toward a truer and more authentic justice that prioritizes repentance, healing, and growth.4

Reflection Questions

  1. Can you think of a time where you witnessed the spirit of shalom? Describe what you remember most.
  2. What do the concept of shalom and the blessings named in the Beatitudes reveal to us about God's intention for human flourishing? 
  3. Jesus’ ministry was one of healing and reconciliation. How can restorative justice invite us to embrace healing approaches to harm and injustice?
(4)  Excerpts from Becoming Nonviolent Peacemakers: A Virtue Ethic for Catholic Social Teaching and U.S. Policy (Pickwick Publications, 2012)
Content contributors to this section included Eli McCarthy.