“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons (children) of God” (Matthew 5:9)
How many people want peace? The world over most people basically want the same thing; they long for a peaceful existence in which they can lead meaningful and productive lives in an environment where they can safely raise families and enjoy friendship without conflict, division and strife. Virtually every person on the planet longs for this vision of how things should be. Where did this vision of things come from? It is an interesting question. But, of course, what we see instead is countries torn and ravaged by war, cities where conflict, bombs and beatings are the norm. We live a world of turmoil: in the private agony of inner conflict, in families that are bitter and quarrelsome, in relational discord with colleagues and spouses, in short, in a broken world. Ironically, however, our culture who says it longs for peace in the “real” world, gravitates toward strife and conflict in the “imaginary” world of cinema and video games. Who wants to go to a movie where everything is peaceful and rosy? No, we are drawn toward stories that portray conflict and confrontation, sometimes violent confrontation. These are the components of a good story, of good drama, we say. Sure we want resolution somehow before the end of the episode or at the end of two hours. But we gravitate to those stories which depict some sort of conflict.
Jesus speaks a word about peace and peacemaking in this broken world. As always, when Jesus calls a certain quality, trait or attribute blessed in the Beatitudes, we must ask what he meant. In this case, what is a peacemaker? Or perhaps even more basic, what is the Bible talking about when it refers to peace? What does peace mean in this context in the Beatitudes? We’ve been talking about the Beatitudes as a sequence or a progression. So why does this blessing appear at this point in the sequence? What is Jesus getting at here?
Recapping the Beatitudes
We have moved in the initial three or four Beatitudes that speak to what the transformed heart of a disciple in the Kingdom of God looks like, to the final four that speak to the major ways in which a Kingdom person lives out their calling. So we have moved on the continuum from being to doing, from attitude to action. Jesus taught that those who have recognized their spiritual poverty, who have mourned over their own depravity and loss, who have humbly bowed their knee to the true King, Jesus, and have turned their lives over to the quest of hungering and thirsting for personal righteousness, will begin to live out the Kingdom of God in some specific ways. First there is a yearning for and active involvement in putting things right in the world around them, especially on behalf of the poor and vulnerable. Second, they have a desire to show compassion and forgiveness to the least deserving because they have realized that they themselves have received from God and from others a mercy which they did not deserve. They are therefore generous in their compassion, releasing those who have wronged them by means of forgiveness, because they know how much God has forgiven them and showered them with compassion. Having known the mercy of God and of others, they have passed it on and in so doing discover that these acts of compassion and forgiveness reveal a purity of heart. When hearts are purified, seeing God is the result. How do they see God? In a multiple of ways: they recognize the vision God in creation, in the face of Jesus, and in the faces of those considered least by our culture. For the pure in heart, God shows up on a regular basis. And as they recognize the face of God in the faces of the broken and conflicted people around them, a new compassion to bring the healing of peace rises up in their hearts. In other words, they long to be peacemakers.
Definition of Peace and Peacemaking
Now to address our original question. What does the Bible mean when it talks about peace? More specifically, what did Jesus mean here when he called peacemakers blessed?
Of course the answer varies with the context. Certainly on one level peace means the absence of conflict or strife. So here peacemaking means dismantling those barriers that brought division and discord. It means promoting unity and cooperation. But when the Bible – specifically the Old Testament – speaks about peace, the concept is richer and more comprehensive in scope than all of this. The word used there is shalom. But what does shalom actually mean? It is a common greeting and salutation used by Jewish people in Israel to this day.
Peace and the Concept of Shalom
When we read the word peace in the Bible, we should realize that it means much more than the absence of strife or war. The Hebrew word shalom denotes a state of total health and well-being in which all relationships are productive, harmonious and flourishing. The harmonious condition of creation before the Fall was that of shalom. The Greek word used to translate the Old Testament concept of shalom is eirēnē. In addition to its usual usage to connote tranquility and absence of conflict, in the Greek Old Testament (called the Septuagint) as well as in the New Testament, it carries the expanded meaning of total well being and human flourishing. So this peace is a condition of the heart but it is also the condition of the ideal society where the well-being of all things flows like a life-giving river (Isa. 66:12; Rev. 22:1-4). Shalom was the condition of the pre-fall, pre-cursed world and at the consummation of all things it will again be the condition of the new heaven and the new earth (Rev. 21:1-4).
Truth and Reconciliation
Over the past couple of decades the country of South Africa has begun to unravel the tangled turmoil of apartheid. Closer to home in Canada, are the devastating consequences of the residential school system which forced many native children to leave their families and traditions in order to be educated in religious schools which were often extremely abusive. These stories have come gained traction in recent years and are repeatedly featured in news headlines as we as a society grapple with the sins of our fathers. Their evil human policies have caused untold pain and suffering which has prompted cries for justice. As governments and individuals have become increasingly aware of the systemic evils of past generations they have felt compelled to sponsor commissions of truth and reconciliation in order to address and deal with the fallout these unjust policies created. The goal of these commissions is to get at the truth of what happened, to persuade governments and churches to admit the wrongdoing that occurred, and finally, to pursue and promote peace and healing for those affected. These efforts have met with varying degrees of success as they attempt to root out some of the evils promulgated decades ago. But where each of these attempts at making peace have not succeeded is in their failure to delve into the core issue which is the sinful human heart. People are usually pretty good at recognizing broader systemic evil, but have a self-inflicted blind spot when it comes to identifying it within our own hearts. But that is precisely where the peace that God offers necessarily begins its work, that is, with my own sinful condition.
Carrying God’s DNA
In this Beatitude, peacemaking is crowned by blessing. Those who’ve been captured by the Kingdom of peace and the Gospel of peace and then make it their mission to declare peace, to be ambassadors of peace and makers of peace, receive the special blessing of being declared God’s sons (i.e. children). To be a peacemaker is to be like God. Since the Father is fully invested in re-creating peace, it is no wonder that his children have inherited his “genes.” To act as a peacemaker is to act in a way that demonstrates our kinship to the Heavenly Father. Somehow when we promote peace, when we proclaim the Kingdom of God and the Gospel of peace, the Father’s DNA is at work within us.
So what does this all mean for us? What mission does this put us on? I believe it clarifies are mission supremely. There are multiple ways to be peacemakers: from praying for peace in all aspects of our world, to living in and modeling peace in our personal relationships, to promoting and bringing peace to people we know who are caught in the web of domestic discord and violence, to being actively involved supporting those who are bringing warring parties to the table on the international stage (look up The Vicar of Baghdad on YouTube). But the most fundamental way we act as peacemakers is by introducing people to Jesus, the Prince of Peace. He is where it all begins. Introducing people to a new kingdom way of living that is empowered by the resurrected and living Lord. He and he alone can bring the peace that this world so needs and craves.
And that is precisely what Jesus is saying here, that those who are peacemakers are blessed because they will be identified as children of God. It is the one who declares and promotes the peace of God who is also part of the peacemaking process. True peace must of necessity begin with the sinful human heart that is born in a state of enmity with God. From that starting point, peace can begin to flow outward and trickle its way into all other relationships which have been contaminated by sin and the curse. So a peacemaker realizes that she is first and foremost a recipient of God’s peace. She is now positioned to transmit that peace to others and in this way is a partner with God in moving the Kingdom of God forward toward its ultimate fulfillment.
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