Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A, 13 February 2011)

Blessed are…the peacemakers

Matthew 5.21-37

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

You may be starting to detect a theme in the sermons of late. It’s this: the Sermon on the Mount is addressed to the people of the Beatitudes: the poor in spirit; the mourners; the meek; those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; the merciful; the pure in heart; the peacemakers; the persecuted.

These are the people who have a chance of ‘getting it’.

In the Monty Python film Life of Brian, Brian is standing at the edge of the crowd listening to Jesus proclaiming the Beatitudes. Brian and his companions are too far away to hear properly, so when Jesus says, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’, what they hear is:

‘Blessed are the cheesemakers.’

One of them is confused, and asks,

Aha, what’s so special about the cheesemakers?

Another in the group is obviously very knowledgeable, and adds:

Well, obviously it’s not meant to be taken literally; it refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.

This bloke thinks he understands, but he doesn’t get it. I think he must have written some of the bible commentaries that I have read.

So who may understand the Beatitudes? Who ‘gets’ what they mean? And who then can ‘get’ what the Sermon on the Mount is about? It’s the meek, the pure in heart and those who seek for justice for others. Oh, and the cheesemakers peacemakers. In this series on the Beatitudes, we’re trying to hear their voices and read the Sermon on the Mount in partnership with them.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

‘Peacemaker’ was a word they used in the first century. ‘Peacemakers’ imposed onto others the Roman peace, the pax Romana. ‘Peacemakers’ included the Roman armies, who subjugated other races and cultures for the sake of a kind of peace, the Empire’s peace. Of course, armies and empires have been doing that down to this day. They kill for peace.

In the American ‘wild west’, the Colt 45 was the most common revolver. One of its nicknames—and a very inappropriate one—was the ‘peacemaker’. In the 1980s in the United States, the Reagan Administration had a hard time finding a name for their new weapon, the MX missile. They wanted to call it the ‘Peacemaker’. In November 1982, at the last minute, the name was changed to ‘Peacekeeper’. The Pentagon said someone had decided that ‘Peacemaker’ sounded too much like ‘pacemaker.’ New York Times, 22.11.82

I’m sure that wasn’t the only reason, or even the real reason. I remember the controversy at the time, and I recall the that the churches opposed this missile being called the ‘Peacemaker’—because of the close association of the word ‘peacemaker’ with Jesus. The churches of the USA were quite clear that this is not the kind of peacemaking that Jesus and the people of Jesus are on about.

Sometimes we judge it necessary to send soldiers into places where their lives are put in danger. We speak of them making ‘the ultimate sacrifice’. It may be in a war such as in Afghanistan, or in a peacekeeping exercise such as in Iraq or East Timor. But we don’t call them ‘peacemakers’, do we? If peacemaking comes, it comes at a later time. The politicians call it ‘nation-building’.

So when Jesus says ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’, he’s not talking about the empire’s peace. True peace does require sacrifice. The thing is, the empire sacrifices others for the sake of its ‘peace’.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus shows us the way to true peace: it is to sacrifice all that is false within ourselves—to let go of power, status and things as what really ‘counts’ in life. In this way, peacemakers reconcile people and groups that are at loggerheads. They bring them together.

It’s a tough agenda.

So, he says,

You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgement’. But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement…

You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’… That’s not a hard law to obey. I have obeyed it thus far in my life; I have never murdered another human being. (You didn’t know that, did you?)

I’ve never murdered anyone, but I’ve been angry with people. I’ve insulted people. I’ve said ‘You fool’, or words to that effect.

In do so, I have sinned grievously in my heart against my sister, my brother and my God.

How would a peacemaker approach these words of Jesus? The first thing we can say is this: Peacemakers don’t pronounce judgement upon others.

Let me tell you something about my dad. Dad used to be a prison officer, and he managed the stores in a medium-security prison. He told us that murderers were usually men he could trust to work for him in the stores. They had snapped, they had taken a life, they were paying for it—but they weren’t necessarily dishonest.

My dad was only earning a crust, and he’d be embarrassed to be called a ‘peacemaker’. But he taught me something about not judging others.

A peacemaker hears these words of Jesus—‘You have heard it said…but I say to you…’—and allows herself to receive these words. A peacemaker knows that she is liable to anger, just as others are.

A peacemaker has empathy for others. She can identify with other people’s feelings, she can  understand their difficulties. She doesn’t need to lash out at others.

Secondly, we can say that peacemakers have a sense of inner peace. A peacemaker is peaceful in his actions because his heart is at peace. Peacemaking, being a reconciler, is how he shows the peace that’s in his heart.

St Seraphim lived two hundred years ago in Sarov, a town in Russia. Once he said this:

Acquire inner peace and thousands around you will find salvation.

How do we find that sense of inner peace? We find it through trust. Trust that God is love, and is our heavenly Father. Trust that the way of Jesus is the way to life. Trust that the Spirit will guide us and keep us in the truth.

Trust that there’s no need to be afraid of God.

Trust that ‘the facts are always friendly’, in the words of the psychologist Carl Rogers.

Trust that we have nothing to prove.

Trust that we are safe in the arms of God our motherly Father.

Thirdly and finally: peacemakers are more concerned about the law of love than the love of law. They have compassion.

There are people who love the law, who condemn murderers and adulterers because they have never done such things. But Jesus wants to take us deeper, so we can become peacemakers. Jesus wants us to embrace the law of love. Jesus wants us to know deep inside that murder and adultery are not foreign to us. Even if we have never committed them, we have known anger, we have known the desire to possess another.

Jesus wants us to love others, to seek their peace and to be reconcilers for those who are locked in dispute.

Peacemakers ‘get’ what Jesus is saying, because they are people at peace.

And what does Jesus say of peacemakers? ‘They shall be called children of God.’

In other words, they will be like God. They will reflect the true nature of God. Because, you see, God is the Peacemaker.

As St Paul says in Ephesians 2,

In Christ Jesus we who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace.

The Lord Jesus is our peace—now. It doesn’t say ‘He will be our peace’, but ‘He is our peace’. That’s how we can be peacemakers now. Through trusting in Jesus for forgiveness and life, and for peace. Amen.

1 Comment

Filed under church year, RCL, sermon

One response to “Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A, 13 February 2011)

  1. AKAMI

    weekly readings of the times

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