When it comes to matters of peace two Jewish texts come to mind, both of which would have been known to Jesus. The first is Psalm 34:14, “Seek peace, and pursue it.” The second is from Rabbi Hillel’s “Love peace, pursue peace, and love humankind,” (Pirke Avot 1:12).
Before we can talk about loving, seeking and pursuing peace, however, we have to define peace itself. The Hebrew word for peace is shalom and it shares a root (sh-l-m) with the Hebrew word shalem, wholeness. Peace is what arises when there is wholeness; that is to say when we realize that all opposites are complements in the greater unity of God.
To achieve shalom/shalem (peace/wholeness) we must overcome our sense of separation from God, and consequent alienation from one another and from nature. When Adam eats from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, God says he has become k’achad mimenu (Genesis 3:22), not “like one among us,” as most English translations put it, but, more accurately, “like one unique from us.” Being “unique from God” means being separated from God, and hence separated from all things for God includes all things. It is this sense of separation and alienation, symbolized by our expulsion from Eden, that is the human condition.
The “original sin” in Judaism is a shattering of wholeness, our sense of belonging and place where, as the Prophet Micah puts it, all people have enough to eat, and no one is afraid (Micah 4:3-4). The loss of this wholeness gives rise to alienation, which triggers fear, and fear in turn leads the alienated ego to engage the world angrily and violently, seeking to grab what it wants at the expense of both person and planet. To put an end to this violence, we must put an end to fear; and to put an end to fear we must re-pair ourselves with the world (what Judaism calls tikkun haolam), and then re-pair the world with God (tikkun hanefesh). We must become, as Jesus said, shalom-makers, makers of the wholeness that gives rise to peace.
Peace, then, is not simply the ending of conflict, but the making of wholeness. Peace is learning how to embrace conflict without losing one’s sense of wholeness. This, I think, is what Jesus means when he says, “Love your enemies,” (Matthew 5:44). He still recognizes that we have enemies, but urges us to encounter them in a way that recognizes the divine within them, and in so doing work toward re–pairing all beings in the greater oneness of God.
How do we do this? How do we seek peace and pursue peace? I think Micah holds the key: “They will beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning knives; nation shall not lift sword against nation, nor will they learn war anymore. They will eat, each man under his vine and under his fig tree, and none will make them afraid…” (Micah 4:3-4). Reverse the order of Micah and we have a program for peace: End fear, provide security of place and abundant food, and there will be no need to study war or wage it.
The 23rd Psalm tells us something very similar. Fear, primarily fear of not having enough of what we need to survive, drives the alienated ego. The 23rd Psalm tells us that when we surrender to God’s guidance, that is when we learn to act in harmony with the Whole, we “shall not want,” we will no longer lack for anything. Without want there is no fear, and without fear there is no need to separate myself from you in order to exploit you to get what I want. Micah and the Psalmist are saying the same thing, and so, I suggest, is Jesus.
So, to be as clear as I can, to seek peace is to seek peace within myself: to end my sense of fear, and the anger and violence that accompanies it, by realizing my unity with God. To pursue peace is to pursue peace outwardly, to work toward ending fear in the world, and thus ending the need for violence, oppression, exploitation, and war.
I want to come back to the second half of this Beatitude, “they shall be called the children of God,” but let me stop here for a bit and invite your response.