The Golden Art of Peacemaking
Blessed are the peacemakers.
They’ll be recognized as their father’s child.
“You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of Gehenna.
“So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.
“When you are on the way to court with your adversary, settle your differences quickly. Otherwise, your accuser may hand you over to the judge, who will hand you over to an officer, and you will be thrown into prison. And if that happens, you surely won’t be free again until you have paid the last penny.”
What Jesus says about peacemaking:
- Contempt is the problem that murder makes obvious. Recognize and reject that.
- God would rather you work on mending a broken relationship than giving him sacrifices.
- The ideal of valuing people as made in God’s image is also really practical. Do what you can to resolve conflict for your own sake as well.
Contempt is not righteous anger.
We get angry for good and bad reasons. When we read a passage like this, one that calls us to be super noble towards people, we can’t help but think about exceptions. What about people who deserve to be called fools and idiots?
The issue here is theological and practical. Theologically we are meant to keep the big picture in mind. The telos, the goal, is for harmony between God, man, and nature. Righteous anger is a response to injustices that go against those purposes. That type of anger is positive in the sense that it upholds the value of what is at stake. Justice is correcting the forces that break up what ought to be, mercy is one of the means by which what is broken is restored, even though it may be scarred.
Kintsugi is an ancient Japanese art of mending valuable ceramics. Key to the practice of repairing a broken piece is the concept of wabi-sabi, an acceptance of the hard truths that damage has been done, but in a way that finds greater wisdom and value in the result of the mending process. Jesus’ advice here on peacemaking does not overlook the challenges of injustices and frustrations. Rather, Jesus calls his disciples to avoid compounding losses with unwise reactions to things that upset us. He also casts a vision of how to maximize goodness in response to things that are not good.
God’s priority is shalom, y’all.
What does God really want from us? Correct doctrine, timely sacrifices, perfect propriety? Jesus says a mindset that leads us to take action to make peace where there’s conflict is what takes priority. The point of good beliefs and practices is to shape us into the kind of people we were meant to be. Here he is making it clear: we are people who are meant to participate in manifesting God’s own character in redemption and restoration. Interpersonal strife is an obvious place for us to live that value out.
What difference does peacemaking make?
Religious life often leads us to focus on how our actions affect God and others. Often we need prompting to be more selfless. That’s true and good. But here Jesus adds a very practical caveat to his teaching on peacemaking: life is better for you when you prioritize practical peacemaking. Do the best we can to patch up things even when we know the pieces do not all fit together as well as we would like.