Sunday, July 30, 2017

Blessed Are the Peacemakers

‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.’
– Matthew 5:9

Introduced in 1873, The Gun that Won the West, the Colt Single Action Army® revolver, also known as The Peacemaker®, has earned more fame and renown than any other Colt handgun. Colt ownership records show a long list of ‘action-oriented Americans’ of the late 19th and early 20th centuries including Buffalo Bill Cody, Theodore Roosevelt, Judge Roy Bean, Pawnee Bill Lilly, Captain Jack Crawford, Pat Garrett and General George Patton.

Designed to be defensive weapons, handguns are, nonetheless, like anything else that fires a bullet, very effective killing machines. It’s easy to see how this particular revolver became known as a peacemaker, given its ability to quickly silence the unruly.

Absent a sidearm, what does it mean to be a peacemaker? In a world so ripe and ready for peace, why is there so little of it?

First, there’s a difference between peacemaking and peacekeeping.

Most of us live in quiet, safe communities where everyone seems to get along with one another, even if your obnoxious behavior might irritate someone every now and then. Blessed is the village where everyone manages to make it through the night unscathed. Even if they never go to church, most people, in the course of their normal day, somehow seem to abide by God’s commandment, ‘Thou shall not murder.’

Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers,’ but he never said how we ought to go about doing it; no instructions, just a blessing, as if he knew that we might somehow puzzle it out.

Ezekiel prophesied that God is against false prophets who came, ‘saying, “Peace,” when there is no peace’ (Ezekiel 13:10). The prophet Micah, too, warned against false prophets, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets
   who lead my people astray,
who cry “Peace”
   when they have something to eat,
but declare war against those
  who put nothing into their mouths.
Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision,
   and darkness to you, without revelation.
The sun shall go down upon the prophets,
   and the day shall be black over them.’ (Micah 3:5-6)

Declaring peace and then not delivering it is a bad idea, and we can only achieve peace when all parties are ready to make it. But peacemaking is difficult. Even if the warring factions eventually collapse with exhaustion, making peace is no easy task.

It is true that in the Hebrew Scriptures that Jesus knew, war is mentioned far more often than peace, yet the seeds for peacemaking can be found there, again in the writings of Micah, who seems just a little miffed when he says, ‘He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
   and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
  and to walk humbly with your God?’ (Micah 6:8)

Micah describes three concepts that lead to peace. Note that these three, and not peace itself, are what God requires of us.

Joachim Jeremias referred to justice as the central concept of the Bible (Joachim Jeremias, The Central Message of the New Testament, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1981). It is something that we actively have to do. Justice – in Hebew, mishphat – ‘focuses on what is legally expected,’ wrote Munib A. Younan, president of the Lutheran World Federation, in 2011.

To love kindness is to be compassionate toward others, to show mercy, to be ready to speak out against injustice. We are called to join these two practices with walking humbly with God. Showing humility before the Lord is always a good idea, but the Hebrew used by Micah – hatznea (spelled here without the correct accent marks) – can also mean prudence and wisdom. So we can say that we ought to walk humbly, carefully, and wisely with God. And how do we do that? Perhaps through repentance and forgiveness, first and foremost.

Making peace is not easy, not as easy as making war and disruption. But Jesus says that those who do it, or try to, will be blessed by God. The Bible gives us a road map to achieve it, expecting us to do it not just once or every now and then, but every day. Make it a lifestyle choice, in the same way Teddy Roosevelt and General Patton once chose to make peace in a different kind of way.