“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will get shot at by both sides.” That would have been my recommendation — that is, if Jesus had asked me for advice on the Beatitudes.
If you’ve ever read the opening verses of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew, you have no doubt picked up on the fact that many of these states don’t exactly strike us for their blessedness. Blessed are those who mourn? The meek? The persecuted? It sure feels like the economy Jesus is working from here is quite different from the one I encounter on a daily basis.
This passage will forever bring to mind images that are seared there from the Ukrainian revolution in 2014. While violence and turmoil rocked the streets, members of the local clergy heeded the call of Christ to be peacemakers. A small group of Orthodox priests stood amidst the burning debris with the military in riot gear on one side and the protesters armed with Molotov cocktails and homemade weapons on the other. There, they prayed.
If there were ever a time in which the world needed followers of Jesus to step up as peacemakers, it would be now. However, I am afraid that we often confuse the calling to be a pacemaker with that of the peacekeeper. The two are not one and the same.
Let’s be honest — almost no one enjoys conflict. Most of us would much prefer that everyone just get along and that we be able to live without all the arguing and bickering that we see happening around us.
The peacekeeper is the one who avoids conflict. Peacekeeping so often consists of separating both sides into their respective camps and putting an end to overt violence or conflict. Peacekeepers are those that just don’t want to rock the boat, even if that means that the underlying conflict is ignored. As long as the situation doesn’t escalate, the peacekeeper can maintain equilibrium.
The peacemaker, on the other hand, recognizes that true peace will never be found without truth, justice, repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. They know that true peace is the fruit of healing. They know that there is a large difference between unity and coexistence.
Right now, I hear many calls for coexistence in public discourse. I don’t hear much conversation about efforts towards true unity.
People of faith have an opportunity in this moment to model a different way. We can step up and truly lead if we are willing to step out in courage and risk being shot at by both sides. We can lead if we are willing to allow our ultimate allegiance to the Prince of Peace and the kingdom he came to inaugurate to override all other loyalties.
Healing must begin with listening. Listening must lead to understanding. Understanding must lead to courageous action that brings justice, equity, and concern for all. It isn’t always an easy calling, but Jesus says that it is always a blessed one.