Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Beatitudes: Part 7

Quick Review
The word translated as “Blessed” with which each Beatitudes begans, seems to be a promise of things to come. But the word is better translated as “O the bliss...”  Bliss is a word that properly belongs only to the gods. Yet, Jesus is stating that it is his followers’ now. As William Barclay says, “...The Beatitudes are not promises of future happiness...they are affirmations of the bliss into which the Christian can enter here and now.”

Today’s Beatitude: Those Who Break Down Barriers

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.  Matt 5:9

When we think of peace these days, we tend to think of the absence of conflict or trouble. Even when Germany was in shambles after WWII, with limited services and hardly any food, the residents would likely have said they were finally at peace. The Greek word which is translated as peace is eirene. It is used to translate the Hebrew word shalom. Shalom is a very rich word. It describes perfect welfare, serenity, prosperty, and happiness. When used as a greeting, it doesn’t just wish a person freedom from conflict, but wishes everything positive for the person being greeted.  Shalom also describes a right relationship with another, intimacy, fellowship, goodwill. When we exchange the Peace during the Eucharist, this is what we are offering our fellow worshippers!

Peace is important in the New Testament. Paul begins all his letters with a prayer for grace and peace for the readers. The word peace occurs in every New Testament book. Jesus wishes peace on his followers, especially when he says, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you” (John 14:27)

Notice especially that the Beatitude doesn’t offer bliss to the one who loves or longs for peace, but to the person who is a peace-maker. Too often we shy away from speaking up when we are sure something is amiss in work situations, family life, or even church. We don’t want to rock the boat, upset the apple cart, create a stir--in short, create conflict. We might be called peace-lovers in such a situation--or perhaps conflict avoiders. And the person who speaks up? That one might be called a trouble maker. Yet, in the sense in which peace-maker is used here, speaking up is exactly what’s called for. Wrongs need to be made right.

Bliss, it seems, comes when a person is prepared to disrupt the status quo, when that status quo needs disrupting. The peace-maker will face difficulty, unpopularity, scorn and more in the pursuit of real peace. It was in this sense that Jesus said, “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matt 10:34) He means, “I didn’t come to allow the illusion of peace to continue. I came to disrupt it, to shine light into darkness, and by doing so, bring shalom.

The second meaning of shalom about right relationships requires this sword of which Jesus spoke. When relationships are broken, bringing healing will disrupt the truce that exists between people or between people and systems of government or other powers. As Jesus overthrew the moneychangers, creating havoc, he was trying to bring peace, to restore the peoples’ right relationship with the worship of God, and thereby with God himself. And if we attack the barriers that stand in the way of right relationships, what will we receive for our trouble? Jesus says we will be called the children of God. Because Hebrew has so few adjectives, the word “son” or “child” often prefaces a word to give it richness. The name Barnabas, or Bar-Nabas, means “son of consolation,” while James and John, because of their volatile personalities were calls “sons of thunder.”

The peacemaker becomes a “son” of God, that is, becomes like God, or takes on attributes of God! And while it may not be as short and to the point as the original Beatitude, we can now restate this one. Oh the bliss of those who break down barriers, who make relationships between person and person and person and God right again. They are truly God’s children, doing the work God requires to restore wholeness to his creation.

Peace, and I mean that in all its richness.


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