A couple of days ago in a dream I was instructed to write about “Blessed are the Peacemakers.” At first I put it off, because it’s such a huge topic and I’m not sure how qualified I am to write about it.
But then today, while working on the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, I had the task of meditating on the Beatitudes. So it seems that I need to go ahead and listen to my dream and reflect on Matthew 5:9:
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
It’s the seventh of nine Beatitudes — pithy teachings Jesus offered in his famous Sermon on the Mount, all of which began “Blessed are…” The Greek word for “blessed,” makarios, carries the sense of “Happy” or “Fortunate” — so you could render this verse like this:
When you work for peace, it makes you happy — and people will recognize you as a child of God.
First of all: notice how non-aggressive this teaching is. Jesus doesn’t say, “You’d better work for peace or else you don’t get to be a child of God.” Not at all. There’s no hostility in his teaching (so he models exactly how we are called to be). Peacemaking is something other than aggression or hostility or attacking.
But make no mistake: Jesus may be teaching peacefully, but he is not being a wimp here. By telling us that peacemakers are blessed, he is making it clear that, for Christians, there is no other option. We want to be children of God — and peacemaking is the way we must walk.
Being a Peacemaking in a World Filled with Conflict
I come from a military family. My father was an air force pilot and my brother spent a number of years serving in the navy. I think it’s important when we consider Jesus’s teaching on peacemaking, is not to simply settle for being aggressive or hostile toward those who serve in the military, or even toward our political leaders who promote “hawkish” solutions to international conflicts.
Being a peacemaker means actively working to find alternatives to aggression or hostility. And that extends even toward those who may be our political opponents.
I’m not a politician or a soldier myself, and I recognize that very few people are in a position to be “peacemakers” in the global sense of working to end, or prevent, military conflict. If someone who is reading this blog is in that kind of position of authority and power, I hope that you are seriously reflecting on Jesus’s challenge to you. Be a peacemaker. That doesn’t mean we surrender American interests or capitulate to those who wish us harm. But it does mean that we make strategic choices always with an eye toward how we can best preserve or restore peace, even if that is not going to happen today or tomorrow.
But I want to address this blog post to the vast majority of people who are not in positions of public or military leadership. How are we ordinary folks called to be “peacemakers”? What is it that Christ expects of us?
Certainly there is a place for being politically engaged, and I would encourage anyone who has a sense of the importance of peacemaking, to communicate your concerns to your elected representatives in congress and to the president. But as I write these words, I’m aware that, in a democracy, people of good will nevertheless come to different conclusions about the best way to promote peace.
Once again, it’s important to meet those with whom we disagree, without aggression or hostility. The minute we indulge in aggressive behavior — whether it’s name-calling, shaming, or any other kind of discourse that is designed to attack the other side rather than to promote our own beliefs — we have stopped being peacemakers.
When Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers,” he didn’t say “You pacifists need to grind the other side into the ground.” It is vitally important that we remember this.
Bringing Peace Down to Earth (and In Our Neighborhoods)
I think for many of us, peacemaking might begin not in the arena of political conflict (let alone military operations), but in a place much closer to home.
We need to make peace with ourselves.
We need to make peace with our family and friends.
We need to make peace with God.
We need to make peace in any situation where there is hostility or agression or attacking present. We especially need to make peace in those situations where we are the ones doing the aggression or attacking, but we also need to develop skills to learn to how defuse or de-escalate situations where others are behaving aggressively or with hostility toward us.
None of this is easy. If you are like me, you did not get any education in peacemaking, or reconciliation, or conflict resolution, when you were in school. Many of us need the help of family therapists or life coaches or spiritual advisors in order to learn how to move from aggression to peacemaking.
But it’s vital that we learn to do this. If you are a follower of Jesus, it’s not optional. This is who we are called to be.
But even if you are not a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, I hope you will recognize that, beginning on an interpersonal/local level, human beings learning how to relate to others without hostility or aggression is pretty much an essential task of we want a society worth living in.
This means we have to learn how to deal with bullies, how to defend ourselves from the aggression of others (especially those with more power than we possess), and how to trust in solutions to conflict that do not involve attacking or displays of force (whether psychological or actual).
If we are the bullies, then we have a huge task to undertake. We have to learn how to surrender our own addiction to force, to privilege, and to aggression. Which is never easy, but is essential for anyone who wants to be in alignment with true spiritual wisdom (including, but not limited to, the way of Jesus).
Most people have a clear sense that we live in a society that seems to be increasingly fragmented, polarized, and divided. Nothing will stand still. If we fail to make peacemaking a priority, our society will simply continue to drift toward violence. But if enough of us do make a commitment to peacemaking — on the local level, even before worrying about global problems — then we have a chance of restoring the kind of society we all want to live in: a society where everyone has dignity just by virtue of being human, and that we all deserve a fair shake at creating (together) a community that serves the common good, rather than just the interests of those with the most power.
Let’s commit to do this… together.