READ : Matthew 5:9
Would you like to be called “a child of God”? Jesus says that the way to earn that title is to become a peacemaker.
It’s clear that we live in a world which is not at peace. We’re reminded of this every time we pick up a daily paper and read the headlines or tune into a news broadcast. Historian John Keegan in his book The History of War points out that the story of warfare is essentially the story of human society itself. Before there were any cities or civilizations, any artistic or cultural achievements, any written records for posterity, there was war. The earliest organized human activity for which there is any evidence is hunting, including the hunting of other human beings. And even today, wherever we look, we see signs of tension, hostility, conflict and open warfare.
“Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus says, “for they will be called ‘children of God.'” When he uttered that famous beatitude, Jesus certainly touched upon a glaring need. Whether it is tension and unresolved disputes in Kashmir or Korea, or war in the Middle East, or even just a quarrel between two squabbling children, our world has a pressing need for peacemakers to step in and bring reconciliation.
Why is this? Almost everyone knows that peace is good and war is bad. Everyone wants peace; everyone (unless they’re evil or insane) longs for peace as the ultimate good. Even the terrorists and the tyrants who trade in violence usually claim they’re fighting for some cause that will eventually lead to a better society, in other words, to peace. Peace is everybody’s goal. So why is there so little of it? Why is it so hard to find?
THE CALL TO PEACEMAKING
One of the master works of the American musical theater is Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story. It’s an updated version of the Romeo and Juliet story, a tale of star-crossed lovers whose love is doomed because of the conflict between their two different cultures. The play’s ultimate hope is expressed in its most famous song:
There’s a place for us, somewhere a place for us . . .
Peace and quiet and open air, hold my hand and we’re half way there . . .
Somewhere . . . somewhere, we’ll find a new way of living.
We’ll find a way of forgiving . . . somewhere.
These are the things we’re all hoping for, aren’t they: peace, joy, love, harmony; beauty, wholeness, healing; forgiveness and a new way of living. But nobody seems to know just where they can be found. Is this the best that we can do? Believe that peace is out there . . . somewhere? Are we reduced to holding hands and hoping that someone or something will take us there eventually?
THE NEED FOR PEACEMAKING
But peace isn’t something that’s simply found. It doesn’t just happen. Peace is something that has to be made. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” says Jesus. Peace has to be worked at and worked out, and the work is hard indeed. Peace does not come either naturally or easily. This past spring as the war in Iraq unfolded, a number of signs were planted in front of houses in my community. “Wage peace,” they proclaimed. That’s really a good reminder. We should work as hard at peace as we do at war.
The problem is that there’s something wrong with us, deep down inside our hearts, in our very nature. And unfortunately, all our wishes, hopes and dreams can’t fix that, not on our own. We are by nature peace breakers, not peacemakers, and until the problem in us is solved, we will never have peace. Evidence of the problem is everywhere. It’s obvious in all our human relationships, not only the big things like fighting and killing, but the little acts of spite or meanness or revenge that break the peace and sow disharmony among us.
A friend was talking to me the other day about computer viruses. He observed that a person who creates and distributes a virus derives no benefit from it whatever. It’s a sheer act of destruction: It is vandalism, pure and simple, something that is done only to break the peace, to cause harm and trouble and for no other reason. In its own way, a computer virus is as much a symptom of the perversity of human nature as is mailing a bomb to an innocent stranger or walking into a room and pulling out a gun and opening fire.
Something is wrong with us. What that something is, the Bible calls sin. Because humanity has rebelled against God our Creator, each human’s greatest need is first of all to be reconciled with him, to have peace established with God and then through God, to make peace with one another. The first part of peacemaking peace with God is not a work we can do for ourselves. Only God can do it. But the good news of the gospel is that he has done it in and through Jesus Christ. “Through him,” the Bible says,
God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven by making peace through the blood of his cross.
In dying for sin, Christ has provided the means by which the hostility between God and humanity can be laid to rest. All those who believe in Christ are brought into fellowship with God and therefore with one another as well. And after that, God entrusts this new community of humankind (called the church) with the work of extending his reconciliation out to the whole world. “In Christ,” says the scripture, “God was reconciling the world to himself.” He “reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:19, 18). In other words, of peacemaking.
So the most important peacemaker is God himself, and the greatest act of peacemaking in history is Christ’s death on the cross. The most basic need for everyone is to be reconciled to God through faith in Christ. And the work of peacemaking starts with the gospel. The most fundamental work is evangelism, the sharing of the good news with those who haven’t heard or accepted the gospel.
But peace with God (we could think of it as “vertical peace”) isn’t the end. It’s the beginning. What Jesus is talking about here in the Beatitudes has more to do with horizontal peace. He’s concerned here with the need for healing in human society and the restoration of relationships between people. He wants his followers to become a community of mediators, a fellowship of reconcilers.
So what do peacemakers like that actually do? What does their work look like in real life? Here are four things, I think, that are involved in horizontal peacemakers:
1. First, peacemakers must themselves begin by being peace lovers. Do you know what the opposite of a peacemaker is? It’s a troublemaker. At its most personal and practical level, peacemaking starts with the kind of people we ourselves are and the kind of relationships we have with others. Peacemakers are not quarrelsome or contentious or critical. They speak the truth, but they do it in love, and they know how and when to keep quiet as well.
How much more peace there would be among us, how many relationships would remain unbroken in the first place, if we simply learned to hold our tongues, to bite back the angry reply, or to refuse to repeat the malicious gossip. “Be a reconciler and mediator between your neighbors,” said Martin Luther. “Carry the best to both sides, but keep quiet about the bad which the devil has inspired.”
So peacemaking begins at home. Christians must start by demonstrating peaceableness within our own congregations and families. The church is intended by God to be a model of the reconciled life, but when congregations are hotbeds of factionalism and division, when Christians are suing one another, when churches quarrel and split and split again, when local fellowships have members who won’t speak to one another, the gospel is brought into disrepute. We, of all people, ought to know how to make peace with each other. “See how they love each other.” That was said of the early Christians. I think we’d be amazed at what would happen if the same thing could consistently be said of us.
2. Second, peacemaking must be concerned with justice. “If you want peace, work for justice,” goes a contemporary saying. And that is exactly right. Christians are not interested in cheap peace any more than we’re interested in cheap grace. The cross reminds us of that. We don’t believe in peace at any price, in peace without justice or peace that acquiesces in evil. We must seek peace and pursue it. We are called to live peaceably with all people, so far as it depends on us. But peace is not the same as appeasement. In order to make genuine peace we must even be willing to go to war, when necessary, against evil and corruption.
3. Third, peacemaking practical, horizontal peacemaking involves all kinds of work. The Hebrew word for peace is a beautiful one. It is shalom, which means wholeness. It’s not merely a state of inner quiet (peace of mind) or the absence of outward conflict (peace as opposed to war) but rather shalom is positive well-being. It’s life that is healthy and whole and complete, life as it ought to be.
And all sorts of things go together contributing to this kind of peace, all kinds of work need to be done as part of making it. So peacemakers would include everyone who’s working to restore the wholeness of the creation or of human society or of individual persons. Peacemakers include doctors and nurses, counselors, therapists who work for the healing of bodies and minds. They include environmentalists and activists who work for the restoration of the earth and the cleanness and purity of air, water, land and food. Peacemakers include advocates, journalists, politicians, those who expose wrong or call for reform or work to establish fairness in everyday life. All these persons are doing the job of peacemakers, along, of course, with ordinary Christians who are bearing witness to the life and the love of Jesus Christ.
4. Finally, peacemakers must be willing to risk. There is often a price to pay for being a mediator, for being the person who steps in between warring parties. When you put yourself into the breach between antagonists, you are walking into a combat zone. You open yourself to criticism, rebuff, and sometimes to much worse. When Yitzhak Rabin, the late prime minister of Israel, was attacked for opening negotiations with the PLO, he responded, “You don’t make peace between friends. You make peace between enemies.” Whenever you try to do that, the hostility between those enemies can spill over onto you as well, as Rabin’s own fate testifies. He was a man of war who bravely risked and gave his life for the sake of peace.
Can we as Christians do any less? If God gave his own Son to make peace with us, can’t we give up something to make peace with others? It’s hard to be a peacemaker. It’s even dangerous. But is it worth it? It is if you want to be a child of God! “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” It’s worth it if you want to be like your Father. Peacemaking is the most God-like work on earth.