Blessed are the Peacemakers (Matthew 5:9)
(Apology: This is part one on peace)
Peace is an elusive idea. We always have it at our fingertips, but not quite in our hands. The problem to lasting peace has been the “small-scale individual” (Wa. 1801). His world has no room for anyone else but himself. And when we have two such individuals, we have conflict and destruction. It has become an inevitable way of life in which the fittest survives. To the Old Testament Preacher, there was “A time for war and a time for peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:8). Herodotus had come to the conclusion that man would see the error of his ways and realize that it was foolish to choose war over peace. “For in peace sons bury fathers, but in war fathers bury sons” (S.S. p.185). Benjamin Franklin had lived through such a time and concluded, “He that would live in peace and at ease, must not speak all he knows, nor judge all he sees” (S.S. p.184).
Peace has always been elusive; nevertheless, some one has to step forward and declare, regardless of the obstacles, let us talk. Jesus assigned the task to a very small group. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your father’s will to give to you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). It is a time of peace on earth and good will among men (Luke 2:14). Like Jesus the Christ, these few people do it because they become Sons and daughters of God (John 1:12). How can these few in a hostile warlike world bring peace when they are divided amongst themselves? The leaders of the world govern by demanding obedience and submission; but the role of the peacemakers is humility and service (Luke 22:26). The first step in peacemaking is not with God, but with man (Matthew 5:24). Siblings can be the most irreconcilable obstacles to peace. Christ, Himself, has been a stumbling block for far too many because of His claim that there is no other way back to God without coming to terms with each other (John 14:6; Matthew 10:34-42). The individual has to seek God’s Kingdom and God’s Will before he can enjoy the fruit of peace (Matthew 6:33). Peace must be found here on earth for there is no time to find it allotted in heaven.
Jesus, the Founder of Christianity, regarded peace as a personal matter. It was up to the individual to make peace and that such a peacemaker would be looked upon as one who was in tune with the will of God. And those who would pour their efforts into the making of peace would find enormous satisfaction. And He expected his disciples to be such individuals. It was to them that He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). The interesting fact is that Jesus, Himself, was such a man and that He was called the “Son of God.” Jesus did not come into the world as a warrior, but as a helpless baby that could not threaten anyone. Peace begins at the cradle and not when we are old enough to assert our selfish needs and our priorities. That is why Jesus wanted his disciples to become like children that have no ax to grind, over look differences and keep on playing together.
The angels announced at the Birth of Christ, “Peace on earth and good will toward man” (Luke 2:14). Some thirty years later, Jesus the Christ, who had been sent to bring peace, brought the sword (Matthew 10:34). Henceforth, there would be division and strife between families, communities, races and religions. The idea that the lion and the lamb could live together was moved into the future to some eschatological age or kingdom when weapons would become plowshares. Meanwhile, man is at war. Fear of being seduced and enslaved by those who are in power, drives him to invent means by which he can defend himself. After World War I, that was to end all wars, Thomas Hardy wrote in 1924:
“Peace on earth was said; we sing it,
And pay a million priests to bring it.
After two thousand years of mass,
We’ve got as far as poison gas” (Wa. 2376).
Twenty years later, another war was fought to end all wars and several smaller ones more costly were fought with no peace in sight. The Hardy poem has been extended to include,
“Peace on earth was said; we sing it,
And pay millions to bring it.
After two thousand years of mass,
We have passed the age of poisoned gas.
Now we built bombs with billions,
To kill the human race by millions;
From gas to nuclear bomb,
The human race has come.
We have come to believe that man has grown sensible enough to avoid using atom bombs, hydrogen bombs and nuclear warheads. But these weapons are no longer the real threat to humanity. Agent Orange and the Desert Storm Syndrome remind us that we are back to poison gas. But even these are minor in comparison to germ warfare. These germs do not just destroy our bodies, but also our minds. Our minds are responsible for the paradox of peace. Our minds instruct us to treat unacceptable ideologies, religions, even individuals, and nations as if they were weeds to be cut down and burned. I recall a time from my childhood when my mind was filled with misconceived notions regarding others. The Nazis had moved my family from one part of the world to another. Shortly after, rumors spread that two other groups from Bohemia and Hungary were to arrive. These people were made out to be giants, spoke seven languages and were special to Hitler. But when they did arrive, they were just as ordinary and common as we were and we became friends with many.
The human mind is its own enemy to peace. It allows itself to be misled and misguided. Peace is not somewhere else or out there in some promised land. This too I had learned by leaving Europe and moving to North America. I have found that the same evil forces that were at work polluting minds in Europe are at work here as well. In Europe, force was used to indoctrinate; in America, unrealistic persuasion is used. The tolerance level for co-existence is about the same. Human beings everywhere blame others, the devil and God, but never themselves for things going wrong. Some things are beyond our control; but many things we can rectify ourselves. Our granddaughter stumbled over a toy. It was the toy’s fault, she argued. To avoid falling, all she had to do is, raise her foot. Then, there is the other grandson who kicked his cousin because a toy was in his way.
If there is to be peace, then it has to begin with me. For as long as I expect someone else to bring me peace, I will hope in vain. I am my own maker of peace. I must learn to live with myself before I can live with others. If I cannot get along with myself, how will I make out with others? I am my own paradox and I must stop looking for the problem in others. If I am wrong, I must be man enough to accept correction and alter my disposition. This story has been told many times. A man became angry with the people around him. He removed himself to a deserted place. At last he had found a peaceful environment. There was no one around to contradict or oppose him. What a life, he thought, he had. One day, he went to fetch water. He placed his jug under a waterfall. The water knocked over his jug several times. Being too lazy to hold the jug, he blamed the falls and began to cuss. Suddenly, he realized that he was his own enemy and that the devil had moved right along with him to that place of solitude.
The Christian idea of peace comes from the Hebrew or Aramaic “Shalom”, translated by the Greeks with “eirene.” It connotes a state of wholeness for the individual, the community and the nation. It included health, wealth and safety. These were strong signs that God was present and that He approved of the conduct of the people. Whenever their morality and justice was in question, trouble came and war was inevitable. Genuine repentance and correction would regain God’s favor and blessings. The “makarioi” were people of peace. They were in a covenant with God who was the author and giver of peace. Peace itself was the evidence that they were in good standing with God. Peace was as much part of their lives as was breathing. The first word that came out of their mouth in the morning was “Shalom.” It became a common greeting. Jesus practiced it. “Peace be with you” and “Go in peace” were frequently on his lips. The disciples were told to offer peace in their Gospel ministry and Paul used it as a greeting in his Epistles. And the world as a community has come to understand “peace” as a sign that all is well.
Peace is not self-evident. The Gospel writers, in seeking to represent Jesus correctly, combined two words “eirene” and “poios.” Hence we have “eirenopoioi” or “peacemakers.” Peace itself at best is only a concept. For most people in this troubled world it is elusive and unattainable. Even those who think they are at peace experience merely brief periods of rest. Jesus knew this and invited people to come to him for rest where they could unburden themselves. But as far as peace was concerned it required strenuous efforts by individuals and people to work out ways and means toward peace. That precisely is what the word “poios” means. This word includes such functions as: appointing, bringing, causing, constituting, doing, establishing, executing, holding, keeping, obeying, practicing, ratifying, sacrificing, and other related actions that maintain peace. Peace has a high price tag and no effort should be spared to maintain it. It is in man’s best interest to settle with his adversary before he faces a judge in this life or God in the hereafter. According to Jesus, we must do all we can to make peace a reality. Hence, peacemaking must become a way of life. It is like a marriage when two people promise to live in harmony for life.