By CACKIE UPCHURCH, Director, Little Rock Scripture Study | Published November 2, 2017 | En Español
This is the eighth column in a 10-part series.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Mt 5:9
Perhaps it is easier to identify “not peace” than to nail down the meaning of “peace.” War is not peace; anxiety is not peace; holding grudges is not peace. The list could go on and on. We feel it in our guts when we are not at peace, not at one with the world around us and within us, and not at one with our God. There is a sense of fear or “dis-ease” or even loss. Still, we have not identified peace.
In Hebrew, the original language of most of the Old Testament, the word translated as peace is “shalom.” Along with justice and truth, shalom is to be a hallmark of God’s people. In these virtues, we find a reflection of the very nature of God. Shalom is well-being, tranquility, at-oneness or wholeness.
The prophet Isaiah (9:5-6) spoke of a time when the “Prince of Peace” would rule over a vast and forever peaceful domain. As with much in our biblical tradition, this is a now-and-not-yet reality. As Christians we believe the Prince of Peace was born in a manger, walked the roads and trails of Israel inviting listeners into this peaceable and just kingdom, then was put to death and rose from death to seal this promise.
And yet we live in a world that has, for centuries, valued external displays of power, crippling one’s enemies and brandishing weapons meant to cause destruction.
Where is this peace that was promised? Where is this unity with God and others that gives witness to the power of God’s kingdom?
The words of Jesus, proclaimed in Matthew’s Gospel, shockingly tell us that this peace is still among us, this peace is within us, and this peace is what the world still needs. Blessed are the peacemakers! We are to be that peace of God in the world.
The word translated as peacemaker in Matthew 5:9 is a combination of two Greek words, the word for peace and the verb “to make” or “to do.” It carries the connotation of working and some even translate it as a peace worker, another way of reminding us that peace is something that requires effort. But what kind of effort?
First and foremost, we acknowledge that peace is a gift that God offers us. In his letter to the Colossians (1:20), Paul seems to be quoting what might have been an early Christian hymn when he says that Christ’s mission was to reconcile all things to God, “making peace by the blood of his cross.” Our first effort, then, is the work of receiving this costly gift and allowing it to take root in us.
We consider what in us resists the peace Christ offers, what messages negate its value, and what cultural standards diminish the peace of Christ. We wed ourselves to desiring God’s will. This is a work of surrender but also of purposeful understanding of the gift Christ offers over and over through the Gospel accounts, “Peace be with you.”
Peace also requires an effort of imagination and resolve. In Ephesians 2:14-22, we read that Christ is our peace, abolishing the wall that separates the spirit and the flesh, that which wishes to do God’s will and all that resists it. Can we allow ourselves to imagine such reconciling forces at work in our world? Can we move from imagining this kind of wholeness to acting in such a way as to bring it about?
This reconciling ministry of Christ and his followers turns strangers and sojourners into “fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). In the Sermon on the Mount, using this same language of intimacy, Jesus says that peacemakers will be called children of God.
Will peacemaking be our calling card? Will we choose our words so that they counter the violence so prevalent in our culture? Will we hold our religious and civil leaders to the norm of promoting peace and reconciliation, and then also examine our own hearts to root out whatever is not peace?
In today’s world, Jesus’ simple words promoting peacemaking may sound naïve or even ridiculous. Maybe we are to risk doing the hard work of choosing peace and promoting wholeness, trusting God’s grace will work in us.
What words, feelings and scenarios do you associate with peace?
When have you experienced peace, personally or more widely, as a gift from God?
Jesus spoke to his followers, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid” (John 14:27). What fears seem to drive our society in a way that endangers peace?
Consider your own efforts and resolve to bring about peace. What spiritual practices help you to grow in the desire for and practice of peace?
This article was originally published in Arkansas Catholic Sept. 16, 2017. Copyright Diocese of Little Rock. All rights reserved.