Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matthew 5:8)
One writer tells the story of a newscast during the time of the first Gulf War in 1991. Three clergy were interviewed together on the McNeill-Lehrer Hour to gain their wisdom about the new armed conflict. Two of the three exclaimed, “God is with us, we must win!” The third pastor opened his Bible and read from the Gospel of Matthew: Love your enemies… Blessed are the peacemakers…For which he was abruptly interrupted by his compatriot next to him saying, “That’s not relevant now! We’re at war!” He simply added, “If it’s not relevant now, it’s never relevant.”
These recent months have taught us again how much we as a culture crave violence, hatred and vengeance. A key world leader once said, “It is fortunate for leaders when people do not think.” We want to move on, just get along, and forget how much pain we have witnessed, even in our own communities. But we cannot, we must not do that. For reference, the leader who said that, was Adolf Hitler.
We must think. We must learn how to have the difficult conversations that our broken world requires. We cannot simply sweep everything under the rug and act as if the world is peachy keen.
In this beatitude, Jesus is talking about peace, which for the people of Israel was a word called Shalom. Shalom does not simply mean an absence of conflict. It means health, it means wholeness, it means God’s Kingdom being enacted in our midst. As Bonhoeffer once said, “There can only be peace when it does not rest on lies and injustice.”
For the people of Jesus’ day, they lived in a world where the leaders sought after peace with such fervor that they actually imposed it on their subjects. It was called the Pax Romana and the Caesars, the roman emperors called themselves “peacemakers” for creating it. They were bullies, who wanted something, so they went out and took it, no matter what the cost to anyone else.
But in this gospel, the word for peacemaker in Greek really means “doers of peace.” We are meant to make shalom. Far too many people in our world today confuse passivism, sticking our heads in the sand to let the world go by, with pacifism, which is actively pursuing peace. The decision to do so means that we must begin to speak in truth, even when we disagree with one another. As one scholar suggested, in relearning how to disagree, we relearn to have important conversations, bringing us closer to truth and one step closer to peace.
Peace means willingly and energetically empowering others to be the people who God made them to be. It means celebrating our differences, while embracing our commonalities. It means forgiving those who have hurt us and even more importantly, asking for forgiveness from those we have hurt. Shalom has the very essential connotation of another Hebrew word – Mishpat. Mishpat means justice. This is not the kind of justice the world enjoys when we get accolades for doing good and those who mess up get punished. This justice does not play the blame game or shame someone simply to make them feel worse for what has happened. This justice is not about fairness for individuals. Sorry to say, if that is the kind of justice you want, though there are many places around us that you can seek it, God’s family is not one of them.
God has always been about the health of the community and seeing even the “least of these” among us cared for. “Us” in this case includes not just those within the four walls of any church, but also our neighbors, our enemies, even people living in places we do not want to think about.
Peace that seeks justice like this does not forget about evil or those who promote and do it. We must stand against hatred, oppression, and the forces of death. However, it is not ours to dominate them into submission and shame. For just as we are called to stand against those things, we are even more importantly called to stand for peace, hope, faith, compassion, kindness, friendship, and love above all else. Peace means seeking to reconcile with those who have wronged us – not simply learning forgiveness, but finding a new path forward together that will help stop the evil from progressing. We are called to make peace like this. Every one of us has things that we can do, as individuals and together, and we are here on this earth to do them.
Romans says, the creation itself waits with eager longing for the children of God to appear. We are those children. And if we want to take our real place in God’s family, it means that we must no longer take a passive attitude, but actively seek ways that bring reconciliation. It begins with each one of us as individuals and grows from there. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave this description of our calling, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. We never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity. By its very nature, hate destroys and tears down; by its very nature, love creates and builds up.” Peacemaking means dignity and strength flowing both ways and is not simply a remedy for the world’s ills. We, the children of God, are called to get proactive about our peacemaking. We can, must make a difference. We must cry love when the world screams hate. We must make peace, for if it is not relevant now, then it will never be. Let us make a habit, from this day forward, to do peace, to seek shalom, and mishpat, and to do all in our power to see relationships in our midst fully restored.