What’s wrong with the world? Where has civility gone? Why all this yelling and anger? Why has the “news” become filled with anger-mongers and fear? Why is there no peace?
Simple answer: Because the world is teeming with not-yet children of God. We expect nothing better from children of the evil one.
Although we tend to think of the beatitudes as gentle and sweet phrases, suitable to be hung as needlepoint in children’s nurseries, this one makes a stark statement: those who are not peacemakers are not God’s children. This blessing isn’t aspirational; it’s a threat. This blessing isn’t “you should think about being a peacemaker.” Rather it’s “if you aren’t bringing peace, you’re a child of the devil!” Perhaps it is a scary premonition that judgment day may not be a good one to have worked for a TV network or to have been a Facebook flamer.
Yet this peacemaking-business isn’t as straightforward as you might think. The Colt firearms company made a pistol called the Peacemaker in the 1800s. One hundred years later, the U.S. deployed an MX missile called the Peacekeeper. But before you jump to the obvious irony of guns and missiles bringing peace, let me suggest it’s not completely crazy. In fact, Jesus said something startling later in the book of Matthew: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (10:34).
Is Jesus encouraging us to take up arms against Rome or immigrants or zombies and to make peace with weapons? Otherwise how can these two statements, “Blessed are the peacemakers” and “I did not come to bring peace,” both come from the same mouth of the Prince of Peace? Isn’t this a bit schizophrenic? Which is it? Peace or pistols?
Simple answer: Peacemakers don’t always get peace. So the beatitude contains our instruction, but Matthew 10:34 alerts us that we won’t always live in peace or be perceived as peaceful. Because we are disrupting this current age, this current age will see us as though we had a sword in our hand. Jesus didn’t physically take up the sword, but He attacked the kingdom of evil, ushering in the possibility of well-being, shalom, for all. He made peace for us all and became our peace, but only through His conflict, His way and His eventual victory, also His way. The peace will come in its fullness when His kingdom comes in its fullness. And only His children will live in that kingdom. Practice here and now for that kingdom.
Matthew 10:34 does not provide cover for aggression or sword-wielding from Jesus’ followers: Jesus’ rebuke of the striking of the high priest’s servant’s ear in Gethsemane shows where Jesus lands on violence, even, in this case, in self-defense. Rather Jesus was led away without raising a finger in resistance. His aggression was spiritual against spiritual — no Colt pistol, no MX missile, no Second Amendment, no sword. The sword was metaphorical. Facebook flamers beware. Trolls be careful. Newsperson, you have been served.
What eventually was the metaphorical sword with which Jesus brought peace? Wasn’t it His self-sacrifice? Wasn’t it when He set aside His own glory, rights and privileges? Wasn’t it that unimaginable moment when the One who had all power submitted to death itself in order to break death? The sword Jesus wielded was much bigger and more effective than any sharpened piece of steel. He was a peacemaker even as He confronted the powers of evil with His sacrifice. Still confused?
It might be because we assume that peacemakers will try to avoid conflict. Yet that is not the meaning of “shalom” (Hebrew) or “eiréné” (Greek). “Peace,” in the Bible, is not avoidance of conflict; it is the ushering into our contexts the full well-being of God. So Jesus brings us peace and makes peace, yet He does it paradoxically by invading the kingdom of darkness and plundering that kingdom, overcoming its power with sacrifice. We, who live that way, are children of God. The battle was fought, but it was fought in ways we have trouble grasping. We must fight the same way, not in our natural human default ways.
Peacemaking is not a natural thing, just as being a child of God is not a natural thing. We were born twisted toward evil, meanness and defensiveness. In other words, we were born to flame. We were born antonyms of peacemakers: as conflictive people tending toward adversarial relationships, draining places of well-being. In other words, we were born internet trolls. This is the nature of humanity. Only the work of God in our lives transforms us from trolls to peacemakers.
Although I hesitate to ask, I must: How are we doing on this beatitude? Is the work of God actively transforming us from our naturally conflictive, aggressive personalities into those who work toward shalom (well-being) in all areas of our lives and relationships? We can grade ourselves by the absence of certain characteristics and the presence of others:
Not just the absence of
- a quarrelsome spirit about politics
- racial conflict in our city
- an incendiary tongue at home
- a defense of ourselves at work
- problem-creation at church
- sin in our lives
But the presence of
- aggressively investing in civil political discourse
- being the greeter and the inviter in our city
- a sacrifice of self-centeredness at home
- a defense of the powerless at work
- problem-solution at church
- redemption of others through our actions
Three cheers for us if we get a good score on the first list, but we will be called “children of God” if we score well on the second list. These are the peacemakers. And if we’re not peacemakers, this beatitude becomes an eternal threat, not a frameable needlepoint.
Bishop David Roller served for 17 years as a Free Methodist missionary in Mexico and then for 10 years as Latin America area director for Free Methodist World Missions. He was first elected a bishop in 2007.1