We continue with our series on the Beatitudes. Today we examine our Lord’s words, “Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the sons of God.”
In our modern culture dominated by the United Nations, the idea of a peace-maker inevitably conjures up pictures of a third party diplomat trying to reconcile warring groups. But that is not what the picture that would have been imagined by our Lord’s original hearers in the first century. In that day, the peace-maker pictured by our Lord was the aggrieved party who strove for peace and forgiveness rather than for retaliation for wrongs suffered and justice that was owed. Third party diplomats were few and far between; most quarrels involved only two combatants.
Making peace therefore involved offering forgiveness—or at least shelving the justice owed to wrongs suffered. The peace-maker of this Beatitude was the suffering party in a quarrel who refused to prolong the quarrel, and who preferred peace and reconciliation to justice. In a world in which forgiveness was rarely considered such an irenic and forgiving spirit was hardly ever seen. In most quarrels and wars, the victorious crushed their foe and pressed their advantage; the vanquished pulled from the wreck whatever they could and hoped that the day would come when they could take their revenge. In this Beatitude Christ undercuts such miserable moral mathematics and such dubious diplomacy, and bids both parties of the quarrel to stand down.
In a world of injustice, one can appreciate justice whenever one finds it. Thus the Mosaic Law forbade the escalating war of retaliation and blood feud and strove to limit punishment, saying that the loss of an eye or tooth should not result in the loss of the eyes or teeth of everyone in the offending tribe, but only in the loss of the eye or tooth of the individual offender. But there is a problem with such an approach, expressed by Tevye in the movie The Fiddler on the Roof: “Then everyone will be blind and toothless”. Quite so. Therefore the Lord transcends the justice inculcated by the Mosaic Law, replacing it with God’s grace. Let His disciples abandon the Mosaic quest for justice, and leave the final reckoning to God. God will take whatever eyes and teeth seems good to Him. Let us seek not for justice in this age, but for peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
This is the way of the Most High. He pours forth forgiveness and compassion on everyone, regardless of their love for Him or their piety (or their lack of it). He causes His sun to shine on the pious and the impious, upon the righteous and the sinner. And if we would be His children, we must do the same, learning from our heavenly Father and imitating His ways. If the unjust offends us and sins against justice, instead of seeking retaliation and redress in this age, we must leave such things to God. He will render justice to everyone and will repay in due time (Romans 12:19, Hebrews 10:30). We can safely look for peace with our neighbour and leave our grievances with Him.
If we do this, in the age to come God will seal our adoption as His children, and take us finally as His own. When this Beatitude speaks of God “calling us” it means that He will publicly acknowledge us as His sons, like a man publicly acknowledging a foundling orphan as his own child. Though we are not His sons by right (wretched rebels against His love that we are) He will nonetheless take us up as His own sons through the grace of Christ.
Note that Christ refers to His disciples not just as God’s children, but as His sons. As St. Paul intuited (see Galatians 4:7), this distinction is significant, for in that culture it was the sons who inherited, not the daughters. We are all us, regardless of gender, God’s sons, for all of us are God’s heirs, inheriting the entire age to come as co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17).
Meanwhile, we who follow Christ and delight in our status as God’s adopted sons and heirs must strive to make peace with all men in this age, despite the hurt and grief that others may inflict upon us. We can do this because we believe that eventually God will render justice for all, including us, and that the wrongs we suffer will eventually be righted. Of course this divine justice is a double-edged sword: it means that the wrongs we inflict upon others will also be righted and avenged. All the more reason to forgive others and do our best to inflict as little hurt upon others as we can, for we also will stand before God and give an account. As God’s adopted sons, heirs, and His peace-makers, we must strive to keep our hearts in His peace, and give offence to no one. Our security consists in allowing our hearts to tremble before the justice and mercy of God.
Next: Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.