The Word Among Us

September 2019 Issue

Blessed Are the Peacemakers

You can make a difference.

Blessed Are the Peacemakers: You can make a difference.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jerry read one day during his quiet time with the Lord (Matthew 5:3). “Jesus,” he prayed, “you know my heart. You know I try to come to you with empty hands so that you can fill them up. Help me to be more like you!”

A little further on, he read, “Blessed are the merciful” (Matthew 5:7). “Jesus,” he prayed, “thank you for your mercy, which teaches me to forgive and forbear. Help me to let go of these grudges I am holding on to, and teach me how to treat people with the same patience and love you have for them.”

But when he came to “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jerry stopped short (Matthew 5:9). “Lord, you know there is tension and hostility among my coworkers. I don’t mind your asking me to examine my heart, but now you’re asking me to get involved when I see division and try to bring healing. You’re asking me to bring your peace where there is anger, resentment, and rivalry. How can I ever do that?”

Jerry’s prayer shows us how challenging this Beatitude can be. In the call to be poor in spirit or to be merciful, it’s possible for us to focus most of our energy on our inner thoughts. But with the call to be peacemakers, we can’t remain inwardly focused. We have to do something! In fact, the Greek word for “peacemaker,” eirenopoioi, means “to make peace,” even “to do peace.” So Jesus is asking us to be peace-doers, people who “do” the work of peace every day.

As we reflect on this Beatitude, we’ll come to see that when we act as peacemakers, we bring peace into the daily tensions of life as well as into our relationships. We’ll also see how peacemakers reflect the very image of God the Father; they are, as Jesus said, “children of God.”

Jesus, the Peacemaker. Jesus’ whole life was that of a peacemaker. Of course, the most important way he made peace was by restoring our relationship with his heavenly Father. As St. Paul wrote, “While we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Jesus came to reconcile us to God so that we could have a relationship with him once more, a relationship of love and not enmity.

But Jesus didn’t bring peace only through his death on the cross. Day in, day out, he taught his disciples how to be peacemakers. One Gospel story in particular demonstrates this.

One day James and John came to Jesus with a bold request: “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left” (Mark 10:37). When they heard about it, the other disciples became upset with them. It was bad enough that these two brothers already seemed to be favorites of Jesus; now here they were trying to do an end-run around them to get even more recognition!

But rather than risk feeding the divisions by rebuking James and John, Jesus showed all his disciples the way to break down every division: “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all” (Mark 10:43-44). Serve one another. Do good to each other. Be generous to each other. Rivalry and division cannot withstand acts of love. Humbling ourselves and serving each other is the best path to peace and reconciliation.

Peter, the Peacemaker. From the very beginning, the Church needed peacemakers. Divisions threatened the believers’ unity and love. We see this in the division between Gentiles and Jews that the first apostles encountered.

For centuries, the Jewish people stood apart from people of other races and religions. God had called the Israelites to be holy, to set themselves apart from the Gentiles, whom they viewed as unclean sinners. He gave them the Law and called them to live in a way far more pleasing to him than the Gentiles around them.

But then something unexpected happened: when the apostle Peter preached the gospel to the Roman soldier Cornelius and his family, the Holy Spirit fell on these non-Jews, and they began praising God and speaking in tongues (Acts 10:1-48). Seeing this, Peter reasoned, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people?” (10:47). And so the first Gentiles were baptized.

Peter’s move sparked decades of tension. How could Gentiles, who were not part of God’s chosen people, be admitted into the Church? Shouldn’t they at least be required to be circumcised and to follow the laws and traditions that their Jewish brothers and sisters had upheld?

Paul, the Peacemaker. This issue threatened the entire Church, but nowhere do we see the animosity and division more clearly than in St. Paul’s ministry. After his conversion, Paul dedicated himself to traveling from town to town, bringing both Jews and Gentiles to faith in Christ. He established churches that included people from all kinds of backgrounds: Jews and Greeks, slaves and freemen, rich and poor. And in every place, he had to help these new believers overcome their differences and live in the peace of Christ.

Such a radical unity wasn’t easy. Especially between Jews and Gentiles, the divisions ran deep, and Paul had to keep reminding them that they were all one in Christ. He told the Romans, “There is no distinction; all . . . are justified freely . . . through the redemption in Christ Jesus” (3:22-23, 24). To the Galatians, he wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (3:28). And to the Ephesians, he wrote that Jesus is “our peace,” and that he “broke down the dividing wall of enmity” between peoples (2:14).

We don’t often view St. Paul as a peacemaker. Bold apostle? Yes. Brilliant theologian? Of course. Courageous truth teller? Absolutely. But Paul also spent his entire life bringing people together. Even today, you can imagine him crying out, Look to Jesus! Let his cross put to death any rivalry between you. Let his humility soften your hearts so that you can forgive each other. Let his peace teach you how to love each other and live in peace. Of course Paul was a peacemaker!

Making and Doing Peace. So how can we, children of our heavenly Father, be peacemakers today? The first and most important thing we can do is to have peace in our hearts. If we aren’t at peace, we won’t be able to bring peace to our environment. Peace comes from our relationship with Jesus. So whatever might be tugging at you, whether it’s guilt over unrepented sin, unforgiveness, resentment, or worry, bring it to the Lord. Ask him to help you do whatever it takes so that you are at peace, even if there are some situations that are beyond your control.

Second, we can strive to create an atmosphere of peace through the words we speak and the actions we take in our homes, our jobs, and our churches. One way to do that is through a heart of service. Remember Jesus’ words at the Last Supper after he washed his disciples’ feet: “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do” (John 13:15). Look for opportunities to serve, and your example will become infectious. It will spark generosity, kindness, and a desire for unity in the people around you.

Even more important are the words you speak—and the words you choose not to speak. James considered our speech so important that he wrote, “If anyone does not fall short in speech, he is a perfect man, able to bridle his whole body” (3:2). Paul told the Thessalonians, “Encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Encouragement is a powerful tool to bring peace when irritation arises or when complaining spills out around us. It builds people up, gives them confidence, and makes them more willing to work together. Everyone likes to be encouraged!

Guarding our tongues takes practice, especially with the people we are closest to, but it is well worth the effort. Get into the habit, before you speak, of asking yourself, “Are the words I’m about to say instruments of peace? Or will they sow division? Will they build up the people around me? Or will they hurt them and tear them down?” When you examine your conscience at the end of the day, think about your words as well as your actions.

You Can Make a Difference. All your words and actions as a peacemaker really can diffuse tensions, help resolve conflicts, and act as a soothing balm to your relationships. And even if you aren’t able to bring total peace to your environment or to especially troubled relationships, you can make a difference. St. Paul once wrote, “If possible, on your part, live at peace with all” (Romans 12:18). You can only control “your part,” but that isn’t insignificant. Try your best, and then leave the rest to God.

This week, ask yourself, “How can I be a peacemaker? Where can I bring peace into my family, my workplace, my neighborhood, and my parish?” Reflect on your words and actions to see if they are causing peace or division. Ask the Lord where you might be able to build people up through an attitude of love and service. As you do, you’ll be called a child of God—because you’ll be imitating Jesus, God’s only Son, who came to “guide our feet into the path of peace” (Luke 1:79).