‘Blessed are the peace makers’ is one of the ‘beatitudes’, set at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 5.
Peace making is a difficult thing to do, and I want to suggest is an activity of the Spirit, through us as well as for us.
It is crucial to recognize that Jesus did not say, ‘Blessed are the peace lovers.’
Peace lovers are in fact conflict avoiders, who for that reason cannot make peace.
To be a peace maker, you need to engage with conflict. To do that requires other spiritual graces.
I was thinking about this today, after a research student was telling me about some ideas he had expressed in a sermon, on Pentecost Sunday. He spoke of how the Spirit moves to create ‘a broad space’ where we can live. (These ideas come from Jürgen Moltmann, and recall the title of his new autobiography.) Then, just after that conversation, I had to go to a meeting with two people who had been more than a little annoyed with me and with some proposals made last week. We had agreed to meet to discuss our various concerns.
What does it mean to work together for peace?
First, I think you have to meet with each other out of a sense of personal security. If you are anxious or basically unsure of yourself, in such an encounter, you are very likely not to make peace, but to be defensive, or unduly aggressive.
To make peace, you need to begin with a conviction that your own worth, and what you have to contribute, is secure, and a conviction that the same is true of those with whom you seek peace.
The opposite of peace may be continuing conflict. But it may also be a crushing victory: a victory over the other, or their victory over you. That is not peace, even if it is the end of a dispute.
Peace emerges from a different approach. The objective is different.
I approach peace making from this point of view: I need to know what I really want here, and I need to work with my opponent in order to discover what they really want. Negotiation will allow us to discover perhaps that what we most want — as opposed to what we first thought we wanted—may be two very different things. And often enough, we may discover that we both want very similar, if not the same thing. This is a classic approach to negotiation and conflict resolution.
The peace making stage then becomes a constructive task of developing a way to achieve what we both want, while perhaps avoiding what we agree we don’t want. Peace making, in this sense, comes from discovering a wider sense of what’s in front of us, lifting our vision from the immediate concerns, which have caused conflict, to a wider sense of what is possible, and what we can achieve together. Enemies become friends, and partners in the project for peace.
So where is the Spirit in this, producing the harvest or fruit of peace?
My conviction is first of all that it is the Spirit who gives the security or inward courage, the heart, to engage with peace making. The Spirit allows us to stand in the face of criticism or opposition, and not be crushed by it, or need to crush the other. The Spirit allows us the space and inner freedom to find another way.
The Spirit also brings patience, as we shall consider next. The Spirit brings endurance and hope, and all these things are necessary for peace making.
The Spirit creates a wider vision: it invites to see a broader vista, a situation where both our concerns or needs can fit within the one space, the one community: a life together, not a life apart. The Spirit invites a renewed sense of belonging where there was alienation.
None of this is easy. It is not magic, and it doesn’t come easily. I am not very good at it, as anyone who knows me well will testify.
But these fruits of the Spirit are possible. Peace making is possible, on a small and on a grand scale. This is what the Spirit does, and we can be partners, working in the Spirit’s garden, working for the Spirit’s harvest of peace.
May it be so! Amen, Amen.