Sabbath Day Thoughts — “Blessed are the Peacemakers” Matthew 5:9
It’s one of Jesus’s most essential teachings. Many of us know it by heart. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” But if we were to ask the man or woman on the street what a “peacemaker” is, we might be surprised at the variety of answers we get and the diverging opinions about the things that make for peace.
Young people today, especially DC comic fans, will tell you that “Peacemaker” is a super hero, well maybe a little more like an anti-hero. This “Peacemaker” grew up in a dysfunctional family with a violent, unloving father. Peacemaker made an oath to keep the peace, regardless of the means or how many people he must kill to achieve that peace. He acts as a vigilante, leaving a destructive trail of death and mayhem in his wake. He’s popular enough to merit his own tv series, where he is played with tongue-in-cheek humor by former pro wrestler John Cena. This is not what Jesus was talking about.
Looming larger in the imagination of older Americans is the Colt single action revolver, dubbed the Peacemaker, standard Army issue between 1873 and 1892. This Peacemaker has been popular with ranchers, lawmen, and outlaws alike, an iconic symbol of the Wild West. It was carried by Doc Holiday, Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid, Jesse James, and Buffalo Bill Cody. General George S. Patton wore a leather gun belt that carried his Peacemaker throughout the second World War; Patton’s Peacemaker had ivory grips and was engraved with his initials and an eagle. This is not what Jesus was talking about.
If super heroes and handguns don’t make you think peacemaker, beer might. The Peacemaker Brewing Company in Canandaigua is known for their tasty and innovative craft beers. You can drop by the Peacemaker Brewery on Monday nights and sample the 1000-Yard-Stare Scottish Ale while you play Euchre. Or, try Thursday night trivia with a Peacemaker Moon Perfume India Pale Ale. January is stout month, so we have a few more days to sample the Peacemaker Ginger and Molasses Stout. This is not what Jesus was talking about.
It’s not surprising that people in Jesus’s day also had conflicting notions about peacemakers. In the first century, the denizens of the Roman Empire saw themselves as makers of peace. They boasted that the Pax Romana – the Peace of Rome – had brought stability and prosperity to their world. The Roman peace was achieved through violence. Caesar’s legions sailed and marched across the Mediterranean world to defeat local powers, depose their kings, and install their own hand-picked leaders, like King Herod and Pontius Pilate. The Peace of Rome was costly. Troops were garrisoned in the countries they occupied, and an imperial tax was levied to cover the costs of that occupation. Challengers to the Pax Romana were met with brutality, including crucifixion. This is not what Jesus was talking about.
Jesus’s understanding of peace was grounded in the Hebrew word for peace: shalom. Shalom has great depth of meaning, including wholeness, completeness, soundness or safety of body, health, prosperity, quiet, tranquility, contentment, friendship in relationship, non-violence, and the absence of war. Shalom is peace that comes from God and is found when we are in right relationship with God and neighbor. You might even say that shalom abounds when we generously and selflessly love (agape) God and neighbor.
In Jesus’s understanding, the work of shalom/peacemaking is active and ongoing. Jesus could have said “Blessed are those who are peaceful” or “Blessed are those who have peace.” Instead, Jesus’s blessing is more nearly but less eloquently translated: “Blessed are the peace-doers.” We are blessed when we are actively seeking and working for the wholeness, health, well-being, and non-violence of our world.
God is a peacemaker. In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, Paul described what God achieved through the cross, saying, “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Jesus, and through Jesus to reconcile everything to himself by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:19-20). To heal the alienation that existed between humanity and God, God chose in self-giving love to become flesh and face head on the sin of our world. The peace of God met the Pax Romana on the cross. Instead of sin and death prevailing, God worked a miracle of life. Jesus rose and lives, always reaching out to us with love and forgiveness, so that we can in turn reach out to one another with love and forgiveness. As children of God, we are called to be busy with our Father’s work. We are called to pursue God’s peacemaking.
When we choose to be makers of peace and live as children of God, we begin to move and think and act in ways that bring wholeness, safety, good will, and non-violence to our lives and the lives of those around us. In a world where partisan politics have us drawing dividing lines, the work of peace demands that we stay in relationship with others, even when we disagree with them. In a world that can often be bigoted and intolerant of diversity, we honor and respect others, regardless of skin color, gender identity, religion, nation, or physical ability. In a world where gossip, trash talk, and insults abound, peacemakers guard their tongues. Those who follow Jesus in paths of peace refuse to return evil for evil; we turn the other cheek to those who do us harm and even violence. These are the things that make for peace. This is what Jesus is talking about.
Those who would make peace learn to live into the prayer of Francis of Assisi,
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
In a world where the name “Peacemaker” is more often associated with super heroes, hand guns, and beer than it is with God’s work of wholeness, healing, and non-violence, it is up to us as children of God to follow Jesus in ways of peace. It starts with those everyday choices we make in relating to our beloved ones, co-workers, and neighbors.
Those paths of peace continue in our efforts as a national church through Presbyterian Peacemaking. The program works in communities across the United States and around the world to promote the things that make for peace. Today we are partnering with the IndyTenPoint Coalition in the city of Indianapolis to address record-breaking violence and homicide. One young man made a tearful confession about growing up in places like Indy, “I was living in a community that was so violent, it was forcing me to do things I didn’t want to do but felt like I had to do.” The IndyTenPoint program serves as a support system, providing presence in the community, mentoring, job training, avenues to employment, and school help for kids on the street who may be more likely to get involved in drug trafficking and gangs, which put them on a pathway to prison. In the neighborhoods where IndyTenPoint has boots on the ground, the reduction in the level of shootings, stabbings, and homicides has been a shocking 100%. This is what Jesus was talking.
Presbyterian Peacemaking is also at work globally to promote non-violence, healing, and wholeness. In Greece, we have partnered with Lesvos Solidarity, which assists Syrians, Afghanis, and Iraqis interned at the Pikpa Camp refugee camp. Luciano Kovacs, the PCUSA area coordinator, says, “Lesvos Solidarity is a living example of how we can show love to the stranger and promote dignity among those who flee war and poverty. Helping those who leave war-infested areas is a peacemaking act.” Lesvos Solidarity helps with practical things: finding asylum, permanent housing, and employment. Even more, at their Mosaik Support Center, they focus on the sort of things that make for wholeness and meaning for life in a new land, like language classes, educational activities for children, computer classes, guitar lessons, yoga classes, literature workshops, human rights workshops, poetry nights, cinema screenings, and two choirs. These are the things that make for peace. This is what Jesus was talking about.
When we go forth as peace-doers, we get blessed, even as we are a blessing. Our relationships with family and friends are strengthened, our communities are safer, vulnerable people find encouragement and support. When we go forth as peace-doers, this world begins to look and feel a lot less like the Pax Romana and a lot more like the Peace of Christ. Peacemakers working together forge a Beloved Community, that earthly Kingdom that God would have us build. Let us go forth to make peace.
Jillian Engelhardt. “Commentary on Matthew 5:1-12” in Preaching This Week, Jan. 29, 2023. Accessed online at workingpreacher.org.
Amy G. Oden. “Commentary on Matthew 5:1-12” in Preaching This Week, Feb. 2, 2014. Accessed online at workingpreacher.org.
Eric Barretto. “Commentary on Matthew 5:1-12” in Preaching This Week, Feb. 2, 2020. Accessed online at workingpreacher.org.
This sermon drew on my research from the 2013 study series that I led on The Beatitudes.
Presbyterian Peacemaking Program. https://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/peacemaking/
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”