My understanding of Jewish culture is, sadly, limited - but hopefully growing. I love that there seems to be significance in every action of this culture, from eating to sleeping to greeting someone in the street. I can’t imagine anything different from the fast food culture in which I reside, where everything is done on the run and nothing is savored. Everything is quick, and therefore nothing is really significant. For example, it’s very telling I think that the traditional greeting between Jewish folks is “Shalom.”
This word gets translated in my English Bible as “peace.” It’s a shame that we have overused so many words to the point that they begin to lose their significance. Such is the case with this one, I believe. In the Hebrew context, my understanding is that greeting someone with “Shalom” is much more than just a simple hello, it is the pronouncement of a blessing. It is a wish for peace upon that person. I think Paul picked this up (as makes sense given his own heritage) in his traditional greetings at the beginning of his letters, adding the word “Grace.” “Grace and peace to you from Paul the apostle,” he wrote. Then early Christians, and subsequent generations in liturgical settings, would have a designated time during worship to “pass the peace,” greeting one another by saying, “The peace of Christ be with you.” The proper response would be “And also with you.”
So the blessing has been pronounced. But it’s more than just an anti-war or non-conflict blessing upon someone. Literally, the word shalom carries with it the definition of not just peace, but “completeness.” It is a wholeness. In essence, it is a wish to another saying, “May you lack nothing.” Perhaps in its initial context this carried with it the sense of materials - may you be in want for nothing. But I think there is also something deeper there. It seems to be a hope that you - as a person - will be complete. Now that speaks to the insecurity, self-seeking culture of today. How much stuff do I do every day because I am not at peace? Because I have a sense of in-completeness? How much more money do I want? How many more friends do I need? How many more people do I need to think I’m smart because I’m writing a blog about a Jewish concept?
Maybe we would do well today to seek completeness, but our problem (at least in my opinion) is that we seek that completeness from outside of ourselves rather than from within. We seek it with better jobs, with more popularity, with cars that don’t break down, and with the freedom of disease. But real shalom is a condition that is independent of circumstance. It is remarkably similar to the contentment that Paul, the Jew, describes in Philippians 4 - regardless of whether he is hungry or poor or needy. He has shalom; he is complete.
To live shalom is to live in the completeness of Christ. It is to recognize that God is the controller of circumstances, and that in the end, we can do little about that which enters our lives. But we can live in completeness because of who Christ is in us. He has completed the work. And His completeness filters over to us. Through grace.
About the Author
Michael lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with his wife, Jana, and kids, Joshua, Andi, and Christian. He grew up in Texas and earned a Master of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama. He has written The Tough Sayings of Jesus Volumes I & II, travels throughout the year speaking to students and young adults, and blogs daily at michaelkelleyministries.com.