At the end of April I gave a final test question to students in my class on biblical studies at Siena College: “What is the most difficult Beatitude (Matthew 5:1-12) to keep today? Why?” Several of them chose the seventh one, “Blessed are the peacemakers. For they will be called the children of God.” As one of them answered, “How are peacemakers expected to handle a threat like ISIS, who is chaos embodied? It is an advisable trait to wish for peace, but from a global, practical perspective, it is sometimes imperative to break this Beatitude.”
Indeed, it is difficult to be peacemakers in our violent world, one in which airliners are sabotaged in the Middle East, senseless shootings take place nearly every week in our own country, and name calling and threats are part of the presidential race. How can we wish for peace? Yet Jesus does not give us the option to give into violence and hatred if we want to follow him. He does not permit us to give up on peacemaking today or any other day.
Jesus’ command is clear: we are not called to wish for peace, to hope for peace, or even just to pray for peace. We are called to make peace, to create peaceful situations, to be doers not just thinkers of peace.
How can we become peacemakers? A close look at the seventh Beatitude points both to corporate and personal elements. Blessed are those who are peacemakers (plural) indicates that we cannot make it happen on community, state, national, or international levels all by our ourselves. We need to support and be supported by larger groups of committed people who form organizations that work together to stop violence in its many forms all over the world. And we must also be willing to make peace personally as well. We cannot be peacemakers on a larger scale if we do not want peace in our own hearts, in our families, in our places of worship, in our own hometowns, cities and communities.
God’s call is to be persistent, not part-time peacemakers. It requires us to work with others to resist violence in today’s fractured world. And it also demands that we examine ourselves from the inside out. As Mahatma Gandhi put it, violence is self-perpetuating and if we really want to work for peace we must “turn the spotlight inward” in case the fault is largely or partly our own.
+This article was also published in the Leader Herald newspaper, May 28. 2016.
Dr. Earl S. Johnson, Jr. is a retired pastor in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Adjunct Professor of Religious Studies at Siena College.