Blessed are the Peacemakers

September 26, 2021

This is the transcript of my sermon given at Free Community Church on 26 September 2021. The Scripture passage is Matthew 5:9. The sermon can be watched on YouTube.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” A simple, stirring declaration made by our Lord, on which, across centuries of exultation, so much has been said.

So much has also been misunderstood. For example, we may think it just concerns a particular group of people, a particular type: people who are, by nature, gentle, friendly, and harmless. We know these among us, and we adore them. The rest of us are nothing like – loud, crass, strong-willed, even oafish. And Jesus is talking about and to them.

We may also confuse peacemakers with the meek and the pure in heart, whom Jesus, by this point in the Sermon on the Mount, has already praised. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (v. 5). “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (v. 8). We think maybe Jesus is repeating himself or he is stressing the point or giving a double or triple portion of blessing to the same.

We may further assume that to be a peacemaker is like being a wimp or a coward. To make peace is to give in, not to make a stand, to have no opinion, to close one eye, to show no interest in change, or even to affirm the status quo. There are, conversely, others who may think that to make peace is to seek peace at all costs, by whatever means possible. Peace has to be an end, a finality.

I want this morning to ask (and answer?) just three questions tied to this Seventh Beatitude, a “blessed condition” – which is what the word “beatitude” means. The first question is: who is a peacemaker? That is, what makes someone a peacemaker? The second is: why is this someone called a child of God? After all, isn’t a Christian already God’s child? The third: why is he or she blessed? Why is peacemaking this great, blessed condition?

1a. Who is a Peacemaker?

The word “peacemaker” (eirénopoios) appears just once in the Bible. It is here, in Matthew 5:9, in the plural form “peacemakers” (eirēnopoioi), shot out of Jesus’s mouth. But “peace” we get mentioned in many other contexts.

Peace I leave with you,” Jesus told his disciples in his last hours, “my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27). Then the resurrected Christ, in his first words to a room of hiding disciples: “Peace be with you!” (John 20:19) The Christmas promise: “For to us a child is born … and he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

And from the Doxology: “The Lord turn his face towards you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:26).

But the compound form in “peacemaking” – literally peace, eiréné and poieó, maker, doer – is scripturally unique. This peace is a creating, a doing, and this peace, in being manufactured, is distinct from the peace we receive and the peace we greet another with. The peacemaker’s peace is not revelational; it is also not perfunctory.

To make peace is firstly about making. (Should be obvious, no?) It is work and not relaxation; it is not to do nothing. It is thus not to ignore, to disregard, to “act blur”, to – as we sometimes hear – “just let things take its course”.

The peacemaker’s peace is not a drop in, or a lack of, conflict, a serendipitous break. It doesn’t arise from an absence of war. It is not recess time, or a much-needed breather, in a world where the default is eternal hostility.

If you think that is all peace amounts to, a negative nature, then I’ve got news for you. Yours shows, in fact, a literate understanding as depicted in the political world of William Shakespeare’s play Coriolanus. In this memorable play, the title character Coriolanus is a Roman war hero, who, upon being rejected for high office by his people, join forces with an enemy to attack Rome.

But, in the last act, when war is once more about to break, we get a comic scene with a few servants ruminating on peace. one servant rejoices for “a stirring world again” – because peace, he says, has been “nothing, but to rust iron, increase tailors, and breed ballad-makers”. Another adds how, unlike energetic war, peace is “a very apoplexy, lethargy”. While war destroys men, peace makes a lot of bastard children. To which a third agrees, saying, while war is a rapist, peace makes many adulterers.

To all these folks, war and peace are not that different. They’re both problem-makers – but war is at least more exciting and dramatic. Peace is boring. Peace makes people lazy and pleasure-loving, withering away their moral clarity. Peace, as one servant therefore claims, “makes men hate one another” – and so paradoxically ferments the wish for more war.

Peace that creates war!

Now this is not the Christian peace. The peace of the Seventh Beatitude is made with conscious effort, and it does not desire to be temporary. It does intend to end conflict fully; success is a different matter. On the path to this peace, every effort is made for war to become unthinkable, undesirable.

1b. Who is a Peacemaker?

Secondly – and again obviously – a peacemaker makes peace. He or she doesn’t make war. The peacemaker is not a warmaker. This sounds too commonsensical to need my saying, but I am always surprised when I hear Christians talk about fighting this group or that group of people. What are we doing? Have we learnt nothing from the early days of Christendom, of politicised religion, men wearing worldly rather than spiritual armour?

I said a peacemaker must seek consciously for conflict to end, but this end is not greater than the means of peace. It is, in fact, ennobled by the means, the end being the fulfilment of the means. So you cannot make peace by waging war. Yet, so indoctrinated by the world have we been, so consumed by our deeper wishes, that we think we can make wine with meat or go for a jog while sleeping.

How do you make something out of something else with a different nature?

Surely, this nonsense is precisely satirised in the DC Comics character unabashedly called Peacemaker. He was played by John Cena in the recent Suicide Squad movie out earlier in the year. There is a laughable line that summarises my point when Cena announces: “I cherish peace with all my heart. I don’t care how many men, women, and children I need to kill to get it.”

But how can this be a man of peace, let alone a maker of it? How can you be called a child of God when you seek to divide, destroy people?

DC’s Peacemaker is, of course, a parody of the warmonger, one who wages endless war in the name of achieving a greater peace. War consumes this maniac so much so that he believes peace is the fulfilment of war, the prize he gets for containing war.

In the context of Jesus’s words, the great warmonger-peacemaker is yet another Roman, the emperor Augustus Caesar himself. Augustus, whose reign began in 27 BCE, celebratedly brought about an era of general peace throughout the Mediterranean world known as the Pax Romana, the “Roman Peace”. This 200-year Roman Golden Age saw its empire extend as far as North Africa and Persia. Accompanying the conquest was remarkable stability and prosperity spread across various nations and peoples.

The Pax Romana was achieved through might, through war. It was a grand peace such as the world had never seen, gained through expansion and repression. For it, Augustus was widely regarded as the son of a god, of Apollo, the Greco-Roman god of light and knowledge.

“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they will be called the children of God.”

So, when Jesus said that, was he being naughty? Was he, in fact, alluding to Augustus – and, by using the plural “peacemakers”, subverting the political idea that there was only 1 to bring peace? There are many peacemakers, not the 1 John Cena, the 1 Augustus, and they are the sons and daughter of the true God.

And, by this subversion, was Jesus not also inverting the delusion that the great warmonger was the great peacemaker and returning his audience to the simple, rather logical truth: what a peacemaker makes is peace? What a peacemaker does is peaceful.

You see, as Christians, we ought not to be tempted in the way we might be if we weren’t in Christ – that we must, as you have no doubt heard sometimes, “fight the war to win the peace”. When you fight the war, you will most assuredly win more war. You win the peace by making peace, waging peace.

This is why we need to reject the logic of political peace, of revolutionary peace, that we find even in the Wachowskis’ The Matrix. (I can’t wait for the 4th chapter though!) In its war fought for a future peace we are told is “worth dying for”, everyone must be seen as an enemy. You remember how Morpheus famously puts it: while the Matrix, the system, is the enemy, until this system is abolished, everyone who isn’t “unplugged” – businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters – is an enemy. They can always turn or become this.

What we learnt from Jesus is something else, and you must know the difference! In this world-system, world condition, that is our enemy, everyone who remains “plugged” (into sin), is still an image of God. But, even as Jesus hung on the cross, betrayed, forsaken, beaten, hurting, empty, he cried, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

In other words, forgive these people because they look like my enemies but they aren’t.

Remember: we are followers of Jesus, not one such as Morpheus the dreamer! When a Samaritan village did not welcome Jesus and James and John wanted to call fire to rain down on it, what did the Lord do? He turned and rebuked his disciples instead. When, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter drew his sword to cut off a ear of the High Priest’s servant Malchus, what did Jesus do? He halted the violence and healed Malchus’s ear.

2. Why is the Peacemaker Called a Child of God?

How do these not already make it clear to us? It is also why peacemakers are called children of God. They are called God’s offspring because they understand that peace is neither a lack nor an illness, a weak thing. Nor is peace the prize at the end of a battle well-fought. Peace is not an end but a means, and it is a means we can make any time; it is not something waiting to be attained.

Every act of Jesus on earth had been an act of peace. He brought people to God. He expressed God’s true nature to the people. He turned enmity in the Law into love and forgiveness. He broadened the table of friendship. He never rejected anyone who had no business with him. He healed to make people believe in life again.

And this is why, when Jesus at last gave up his life, he could be that pure and acceptable sacrifice bringing God and humanity into fellowship – because he was the completion of peace. Jesus’s death was his last act of peace; it finished a life given to waging peace.

Now, this must mean a few things. First, in Jesus’s acts of peace I have named, it is clear that peacemaking is never about avoiding confrontation. It is not about turning a blind eye, letting circumstances ride out, or, worst of all, suppressing the problem. Yet, this has been a common solution to church-level sins we have seen exposed time and again, elsewhere and even in Singapore.

Rather, Jesus made peace by precisely meeting head-on at the edges that need to be brought together. Between person and person. Between person and faith, as seen in Jesus with sinners. Or person and understanding, as seen in Jesus with teachers of the law. Or person and wholeness, as seen in Jesus with the sick. Or person and truth, as seen in Jesus with his followers. Jesus confronts.

Second, the intervention should proceed in a way that restores humanity from division, that brings about healing. Only in restoration, in the wish for restoration, is God revealed. This is a challenging point to make, to say that, as Christians, we desire resolution and not victory. Resolution and victory are not the same thing! Mere victory is not winning – or rather resolution is victory, even if no one wins or full understanding still takes time.

Such a peace is surely distinct from political peace where one side wins overwhelmingly, if not utterly. But politics has always entailed a firmness of mind not to understand, even to misunderstand, who is of a shade of difference from us.

I therefore believe that it is fundamentally wrong if, as Christians, we persist in seeing everything as political. It may even be the perspective among the secular figures we deem noblest and wisest. But everything is political to believers only because this world is fallen. To push through to bring about a restoration where people can be with people equally – as, through Christ, God can be with humanity – that is Christianity.

Third, we are thus called children of God when, as children of God, as believers, we live out our Father’s nature in us. The peacemaker is God’s child because he or she is Christ-like. In the Kingdom of God, this is a blessing not so much to rule over others, to impose our will on them, as to bring people who are mutually out of joint together.

Only when we work to bring humanity together piece by piece are we expressing the character of our constantly self-diminishing God. God is the God of Peace (1 Thessalonians 5:16), and Jesus is the Prince of Peace.

The peacemaker is recognised and called part of this divine body, in which we know there is no division (1 Corinthians 12:25). Why? Because, in Christ, we are a new creature, “a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Do we realise fully what that means?

The Body of Christ is the body of peace – even though it often doesn’t seem that way. We still have a long way to do. Because, in it, to God, we are more than the parts, more than male or female, more than straight or LGBTQ, more than Jews or Greeks or Gentiles, Indian, Malay, Chinese, more than bosses or employees or what-have-you. We are fundamentally firstly children of God.

To cleave to one identity and resist the wholeness that must embrace what is Other is not in line with peacemaking. Even Jesus who is God sought out humanity. Jesus the child submitted to his parents. Jesus the man empathised with the suffering woman. Jesus the Jew went to the Samaritan. Jesus the healer inquired after his patients. Jesus the teacher conversed with other teachers. Jesus the criminalised forgave his accusers.

3. Why is the Peacemaker Blessed?

Our last question – why is the peacemaker blessed? – may thus be the toughest to answer. I fear that an answer may not even leave you as chirpy as you may abstractly have been so far. It is because we must, at length, come back to our context, which is the Beatitudes.

In the list given in Matthew, there are 8 Beatitudes. The blessed are those poor in spirit, those mournful, those meek, those hungry and thirsty for righteousness, those merciful, those pure in heart, those peacemaking, those persecuted for righteousness. But it really looks like there are 9, right? “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (v. 11).

This funny verse is sometimes read as a mere extension of the 8th Beatitude. Sometimes, it is read as Jesus’s separate encouragement for his disciples. It can also be read as the fate that will invariably meet all those with the earlier 8 blessed conditions – so an extended comment on all 8 Beatitudes.

But, just by looking at the 8 attitudes-to-be, the Be-Attitudes, we can intuit, in fact, how to frame peacemaking. Peacemaking does not put us in the company of winners in this world, all those who are having it good in life. It is, frankly, pretty frightful company, making us rethink who Jesus truly sees qualifying as a peacemaker.

Here is the truth we must expect. Jesus’s peacemakers whom we are to be are not exceptions to those who suffer and are broken and languish in this life, for the life in Christ. Even though of all the blessed characters, peacemakers are the most proactive, creating rather than reacting, asserting rather enduring, yet they are no better in terms of outcomes.

Jesus’s blessings to all these are an encouragement to them because the world must and will fail them miserably. Only God’s Kingdom will be able to begin repaying them objectively. Until then, for the making of peace, we who strive will not be loved. We can hope to be, but may probably not be, understood – because we are truly on the side of peace. No illusions working to be thanked.

This is surely one way to understand a last strange thing Jesus also said about peace, which I have always found very hard to sallow. He said, “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt 10:34). What did he mean? How can the Prince of Peace not bring peace?

You see, when you wage Christ’s peace, all that only see things divisively will come for you. They will make war with you. But, while we must see what they see – so as to understand them and to know how to do peace – we must not see as they see.

Do you get that? We must see what the world sees but not as it sees. Then we can begin the work of making, forming, shaping, creating what is not yet there, the way of peace.

Let us pray?

Holy Father –

We were born again a New Creation
on that day we each buried deep in our hearts,
but, before You, it has always been
this day, every day.

This day when we are no longer
all the things we thought we were in this life
but just one thing and one thing alone:
Your child.

We are Your children,
praying in this room and across space
and in the countless rooms where
other children are praying, will pray today –

Father, make us one.
Make us one
as You and Christ are one
so that the world may believe
You have sent him
and he has sent us.

Give us a peacemaker’s heart,
a peacemaker’s thoughts,
a peacemaker’s hands,
a peacemaker’s burden.

Help us live each of our days
as an act of peace
we bring to those around us
and help us be
a source of some restoration.

Show us the way.
Give us a peacemaker’s eyes.

In Jesus’s name we pray,
Amen.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: