Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Mike: The Sixth Beatitude

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God." (Matthew 5:9) (NRSV)

Blessed are the "eirenopoioi"--the makers of peace. I sometimes think this the most challenging of all the beatitudes.

Consider the historical context. Simon "the Zealot" was among the closest followers of Jesus, and Judas may have been a Zealot, or at least sympathetic to their position. Peacemaking was not part of the Zealot's agenda, though perhaps they might have said, "We shall have peace. We shall have peace when every Roman is dead or driven from our land, and when those who cooperated with the Romans have been punished." By saying these words, Jesus took a position within the complicated political life of the time. Obviously, peacemaking does not require that everyone agree with or like the peacemaker's position. Ironically, peacemaking may well put one at odds with others or a group!

Many evangelical Christians tend to restrict the beatitude's application to interpersonal relationships. The historical context disallows such a limit. At the very least, the beatitude was a political statement. Followers of Jesus, by implication, are called to be voices for peace and workers toward peace in the world of politics. Christian advocates for war (even "just war")are hard put to justify their position, let alone investing their life resources in such a way.

Jesus claimed to reveal the nature of the rule of God, the kingdom of God, and so the very priorities of God. Peacemaking is a top agenda item with God, indeed part and parcel of the character of God. Using God's name, therefore, to invoke or justify violence, division and war may well amount to taking the Lord's name (character) in vain.

Peacemaking is not restricted to the political arena. Interpersonal relationships do come into play. Reconciliation is the life work of a Christian. I use the term "work" intentionally. Peacemaking should not be confused with passivity, "going along to get along," or the like. It requires active engagement in the lives of others. Theologically, the Incaranation underscores God's commitment to reconciliation and calls Christians to join in God's work.

The sixth beatitude's promise is that such peacemakers shall be called or recognized as children of God. On the one hand, the promise offers a bit of comfort as we struggle to "make peace" in a divided world. The promise also suggests that peacemaking is the mark or identifying characteristic of a genuine follower of Jesus. So much for going to war (in any fashion) over creeds and the like, as if discerning and adhering to just the right formulas marked one as a genuine follower of God.

"The devil is in the details," I suppose. It's one thing to embrace all the above in general, quite another thing to practice peace-making with regard to particulars. It's much like the well-worn (but quite accurate)saying with regard to love: "I love humanity, it's people who give me trouble." Still, I see no way out. To follow Jesus well requires that we become and remain peacemakers.


MaryAnn said...

I met one such peacemaker once. In fact, he won a rather large prize for it. He is a member of the Franciscan order I once belonged to. The energy around him lights up a room. When a group of people whose side he was on jumped in and began beating one of their opponents, he physically put himself in the middle of them and made them stop. He could have been killed, and the man he saved hated him. It happened in South Africa during apartheid. His name is Desmond Tutu.

Mike Smith and Rami Shapiro said...

This is Mike. I think I've read about the scene you describe. Yes, Desmond Tutu certainly embodies peacemaking. Thanks for reminding us.

Joe said...

Do you make a distinction between individuals as peacemakers and governments? Unfortunately, individuals who try to ascribe to the concept of peacemaking are drawn into the wars created by governments. As a result there is often a climate of hate, distrust, and fear that comes upon the individual when confronted with people whose nationality is considered the "enemy" As an example, I find some of my friends not recognizing that not all people of the Muslim faith hate Americans or want to do harm to Americans. They find it difficult in today's world to follow this beatitude. It is easier to hate then risk being a peacemaker.

Mike Smith and Rami Shapiro said...

This is Mike. I tend to think the beatitude is meant to apply to individual followers of Jesus and to the community of faith we call the church. At the very least, individual Christians are called to be active peacemakers. This certainly puts us at odds with popular culture much of the time, and the illustration you used is apt. The church, when it exercises its proper role, should always be about peacemaking. Again, the surrounding culture and many within the church may not agree, in fact may well start quite a ruckus over the matter. I suspect that's one reason why Jesus will complete the beatitudes with sayings about the need to be willing to suffer for his sake.

soldiermom said...

Sometimes we say things assuming we all agree. While stuffing goody bags for the mediation and dispute resolution organization called "The Peacemaker Program", we came across a huge bag of donated items from the Army. One woman loudly said, "Well these don't belong in the Peacemaker Program". Now, she does not know that both my sons serve as officers in the Army, and I tried to take no offense.

The same is happening with this blog. I am trying to take no offense to the anti-soldier sentiments that I am feeling from your writings. In a perfect world none of us would have to take a stand against those who oppose us. But we don’t live there. Please hear me, I am not talking about what is currently happening today. Even my sons are appalled and they are smack in the middle.

But somewhere along the way, we gained the right to have this conversation openly and freely. Could we have done so without turning plowshares into swords? Who here would want to go back and find out?

Maybe there is a difference between peacemaking and peacekeeping? Maybe you all have forgotten the soldiers who are “making war” because they feel called to protect something besides peace? My son who is serving his second tour has countless stories of those who he has protected, yet he has never shot his weapon. Is he making war or trying to bring peace?

These are the ruminations of mom who doesn’t always understand why her only children chose to be involved in war. And who is looking possibly for approval from people she does not even know. But there are people reading this blog whose children are putting their lives on the line so we can talk about making peace. Is there any respect for that?

Mike Smith and Rami Shapiro said...

This is Mike. Soldiermom raises an important point! She also prompts me to think a little more deeply about "peace keeping" and "peace making."

I have a deep respect for those who serve in the military. In my experience, professional military people often have a greater passion for peace than others. Many of them have seen the human cost of war and so do not treat going to war lightly. Military forces who serve as peace keepers in various places no doubt place their lives on the line in order to give others a chance to live. They also often provide an opportunity for diplomats to do their work, that is attempt to create reconciliation or at least structures that might make for a stable peace. All of the above is honorable work!

Peacemaking in the sense of the beatitude speaks to something else, I think. It calls followers of Christ to invest themselves in attempting to bridge deep divides, long standing hatreds, and the like for the sake of trying to build a strong foundation for peace. This kind of work may range from the individual to the national level. The more people involved, the more difficult and intricate the task.

My own approach to my military friends is to honor their commitment and sacrifice, pray for their safety, and to work for a world in which their services will never be lightly called upon.

Mike Smith and Rami Shapiro said...

This is Rami. I have been out of town and out of touch, so I am just reading this now. Very interesting. I was a chaplain in the US Air Force and I never met a single "war maker." Everyone I met was there to defend her or his country. The problem is that these are not the people who get to decide what constitutes authentic defense.

The question that all this raises for me is whether or not the teachings of Jesus are a program for those who aspire to be saints, or can one run a country based upon them?

This is a question unique to Christianity. Jewish and Islamic law is designed (for better or worse, and I would say "worse") for the political arena, but Jesus was an endtimes prophet who believed history, war, and politics were coming to apocalyptic end. When it became clear that Jesus was not returning any time soon, the Church, aka the Holy Roman Empire, tried to mix the teachings of Jesus with the empire building of Rome. Sadly and ironicly, Rome won out.

Yet even Judaism and Islam must come to grips with the amorality of politics. Just as we can avoid immorality by playing with the semantics of torture, so we can manipulate any spiritual teaching to support the evil some among us with to do.

In any case, I think it is crucial that we not demonize anyone, including our leaders and especially our soldiers. The former are caught in the grip of a terrifying fear that threatens to destroy the values we claim to be defending. The latter are, by and large, doing their best to do their duty without losing their soul.

I worry about my relatives and friends in combat, but I worry more about how they will be treated with they come home. It is one thing to survive a war, it is another to survive the residual trauma that lingers in peace.

We will pray for your sons, Soldiermom, and for all our children in harms way.

soldiermom said...

Thank you for your responses...I am feelin' the love!

AaronHerschel said...

While I'd like to agree with the distinction you make between soldiers and political leaders, I'm afraid I can't. Politicians may declare war, but they do not fight it. If our soldiers were to lay down their arms and refuse to fight what they saw as an unjust war, there would be no conflict. Of course, soldiers who did so would be courtmashalled and imprisoned. But the nature of civil disobedience is to accept these consequences, and concscientious objectors have done so in American wars throughout the twentieth century. By choosing to fight, to "do their job," as you put it, our soldiers cosign the violence of our government. More so, they enact it. We cannot, then, shift the blame conveniently from soldiers to governments. Further, since democratic government is concieved of as the embodiment of the will of the people, or at least the embodiment of the people's majority consensus, we cannot avoid our own complicity in war-making either.

I have no wish to demonize our soldiers, but I refuse to excuse them, just as I refuse to excuse myself.