The Beatitudes: blessed are the peacemakers.
Image: White Tree, Makoto Fujimura
The past can be so helpful in understanding the human condition. After recently reading a book on the 16th century monarch, Phillip II of Spain (the one who sent his Armada to invade England), I discovered that over the past 516 years, human kind has been in a constant state of war, in fact a staggering 1309 (give or take a few) armed conflicts worldwide over that period of time.
Throw into the mix, the current rates of depression, anxiety, domestic violence and suicide, peace starts to look like a sacred and cherished aspect of life.
So with this backdrop, what does it mean to be a peacemaker as Jesus stated in the Beatitudes. It can often feel the role of a peacemaker, and the associated blessing, is set aside for a few specialists who can navigate and influence a culture soaked in conflict and discord.
As I read through scripture I also find a God that doesn’t seem opposed to conflict. If you read further on in the book of Matthew, you will read in chapter 21 how Jesus disrupted proceedings in the temple by overturning the tables of the money-changers, or publically blasted the Pharisees and teachers of the law in chapter 23 and then allowed himself to be anointed by a women in a house of a leper to the indignation of his disciples. Clear examples of a God who was comfortable causing conflict and disquiet to those around him.
Interestingly, I wonder if peace can exist on it’s own without a context of conflict. So can we live a life in peace that brings peace?
The Greek translation for that specific term peacemaker in the beatitudes means to join, tie together into a whole, wholeness, i.e. when all essential parts are joined together. Therefore this term is about bringing wholeness to others as they journey to becoming fully human rather than some kind of crusade of the Knights Templar.
A few years back I used to walk out to the Upper Nipotupu Dam in the Waitakere Ranges. As I walked along the waters edge of the dam’s lake, I would often spot Kereru quietly perching overhead or hear, then see Tui darting amongst the trees. The thought that these birds have managed to survive when 57 other New Zealand native species haven’t gave me the overwhelming sense that ‘everything will be okay’ and with it, a huge sense of peace. Reaching the dam itself I would allow myself to open up and unravel as I look down the valley toward the Manukau harbour, embracing a sense of openness and peace that everything is alright in the world. As I let go God would fill me, allowing myself to unravel. And as I unraveled I discovered there was now space for other stuff to find light of day. Things like kindness, patience, goodness, gentleness. That was how I encountered peace.
As I got busier in life, I found listening to the predawn chorus of the Tui or sitting with my kids watching a movie at night gave me that same sense; everything is all right in the world, everything will be okay. Peace.
Psalm 46 is centred around conflict, the language and imagery can be translated to our own situations we find ourselves in. There is a line toward the end that says ‘Be still and know that I am God’ which means to put down your weapons, let go of what’s in your hands to embrace something else i.e. in this instance the knowing of God.
In this state of letting go in the midst of conflict I find I am no longer holding things tightly, my internal being softens, I open up. And while that’s good for us individually, its also awesome for those around us as it allows other things to surface in our lives like patience, kindness, encouragement, in turn creating opportunity and space to help bring ‘wholeness’ to others.
Therefore out of a centre of peace we can contribute to the wholeness of others and they likewise can contribute to the wholeness in us.
It is how we behave with one another in this way that defines us as children of God.