“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” (Matthew 5.9)
“Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you…” (Matthew 5.44).
For many of us living in a complex, urbanised world, what we really crave is ‘a bit of peace and quiet.’ But we all have a different idea of what it means, of course. For some it is lying on the beach. For others an hour or so in front of the telly or listening to our favourite CDs.
Time with the family is important for many, not least because work encroaches on every area of life these days, and it is those who are nearest and dearest who can end up getting the rawest deal.
At this point in the list (unless you’re of an activist disposition, in which case it might be at the top) most of us add a bit of a footnote about ‘the state of the world.’ Wouldn’t it be good if it could be a more peaceful, less nasty place? “Still, there’s not a huge amount I can do about it, so back to the TV for me. Maybe I should go to church? Nah, next week…”
As usual, Jesus turns all our assumptions and attitudes inside out concerning peace (and quiet).
For a start, peace in the Gospels is not about the absence of conflict. It’s about a way of conducting conflict without creating victims or copying the evil you’re contending.
This is why, at one point, Jesus contrarily talks about bringing ‘not peace, but a sword.’ The new way God announces in him calls all kinds of people who the official religious system regards as ‘unrighteous’, but in doing this it divides empires and families which are mortgaged to this system.
However, just in case we were tempted to take the sword bit literally (as some in Christian history regretfully have), Jesus disarms us of the wrong kind of weapons for good in St John’s Passion narrative. Rebuking the disciple who seeks to defend him with a sword, he declares that the difference between God’s kingdom and worldly ones is precisely shown by the fact that his followers do not fight.
Instead, Jesus’ weapons are those that equip us to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, to do good to those who despise us. Not exactly the stuff of a conventional foreign policy!
We cannot, in the words of a song I know, “fight the power, and live by it by day.” if we are companions of Jesus. But struggle we must, against all that makes people victims, prisoners and targets.
This is why Jesus spends so much time arguing with some of the Pharisees. They are custodians of the tradition, but they have got absolutely the wrong end of the stick. They are keeping people down when they should be inviting them in!
For this reason peace is not something that can be ‘kept’ quietly (like a garden). It has to be made. It is those who make peace actively who are blessed. And peace is not a quiet life. It is wholeness of life and right relations between people, God and the whole creation: shalom. This is the Jewish understanding Jesus inherits and develops.
Peacemakers are children of God. Even that is offensive to the ‘conventional’ religious sensibility of Jesus’ day, which says that you mainly get to be a child of God by being in the right lineage — that of Abraham, Moses and David. Or these days, in Christian circles, by having the right doctrine, say.
But the peace of Christ is not first and foremost a religious family tree or a set of correct propositions. It is about a living relationship with Jesus the Christ, about joining a new community, about being empowered by the Spirit, about focussing on God’s alternative realism, and about living the new way faithfully in the midst of violence and injustice.
Not a recipe that guarantees business as usual, politics as usual or ‘a quiet life’. But it is the way of the ‘true and living hope’.
God of peace:
Disturb our comfortableness, but comfort us when we are disturbed.
Help us to see how your shalom can enter our world and our lives.
Prevent us from keeping peace when it is merely collusion
But show us how to be creative peace-makers in the face of injustice and violence.
Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.