Monday, August 21, 2006

Blessed are the Peacemakers

This seventh Beatitude promises an extraordinary blessing--'they will be called sons of God.' The most apparent application of this (at least in the West) is reflected in the slogan 'Like father; like son,' which is, in fact, even more pronounced in its Jewish setting. So if we go about making peace then we will be 'about our Father's business.'

There is a second implication in this text, however, that emerges from its Jewish and Roman environs. Step 1: In the OT, the sons of God were the citizens of Israel who obeyed the law of God. This idea is reflected even in the Talmud (e.g. Qid. 1, 61c, 36) as well as intertestamental literature (e.g. Jubilees 1:24). Step 2: The quintessential 'son of God' was the king who was ultimately responsible for the nation carrying out God's law. In a special sense, then, he was THE Son of God. Step 3: With Roman domination came the Cult of Emperor Worship as the human deity. He was the Son of the gods. Augustus and Tiberias both made extraordinary claims about their role as bringers of peace as representatives of the gods. Of course, they wrought peace through extraordinary cruelty and violence.

The combination of 'peacemaker' and 'son of god' would strike the ears of Jesus' listeners as a kingly figure of political rule. Both Israelite kings and Roman Emperors received this titular combination of terms. In the beatitudes, however, these 'royal pretenders' were the least and lost, the beleaguered and battered, the down-trodden and outcast. From their fortunate deprivation they emerge as God's greatest ambassadors of peace on earth. This strangely twisted political evaluation of Jesus, read rightly against its cultural backdrop, still strikes thinking people as utopian, unrealistic, and fantastic. Only the church dare believe it. Only those of faith can see the eschatological future of God's intervention, for without that, this beatitude is utter nonsense.

12 Comments:

Blogger JD said...

Mark,

As to the practical application of this for the masses (not the kings) I'll offer this example.

My computer shop has a client who is obviously on and off his medication. One day he will be screaming and demanding outrageous things from me and my employees. The next day, he will apparently have no memory of his tirade and wonder when we would be so kind as to finish our efforts.

In his outrage moments I am inclinded to refuse him any service at all; as I would any beligerent and uncontrollable customer.

Instead I wait. He'll be fine soon enough.

This is an economical / retail view but, it has garnered an attitude of patience for me.

Peace makes profit. Every time I talk someone through the pariculars of their problem, I gain a client that trusts me.

That intelecutual trust gives us both ground to build on. I have a ton of believers who are my customers but, the customers who are heathens are nothing but furtile ground to reap!

In the world wide view which I have no control of, I leave it to those who weild the heartache of this topic. I'll do what I can in my corner of the world.

August 22, 2006 at 12:41 AM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

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If the meek and meager, poverty-stricken audience of the Sermon are capable of being God's peace-making vassals, what does that say to our persisting assumption that American Christians with their virtually unlimited resources are the most capable of advancing the kingdom in the world? We still tend to trust an awful lot in money; meanwhile, many of the poor Christians of the world, unaware that money is the means God gave his church to make his gospel known, are making peace by making churches--the space and time for the reconciliation of those who were formerly estranged from one another, of those who were born enemies. I'm not saying money isn't useful, nor am I saying that rich Christians don't have a responsibility to give.

So what am I saying?

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August 22, 2006 at 11:17 AM  
Blogger Tyler Stewart said...

i have no idea

August 22, 2006 at 3:00 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

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Thanks, Tyler. That was helpful.

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August 22, 2006 at 5:34 PM  
Blogger CynthiaAdams said...

You made me laugh. How does one become a rich Christian? Logically, it seems to me one would never get to rich because one is always giving it away, if a Christian is living according to the Gospel. But I suppose some do get windfalls and such and then they have to figure out what to do with it all. Such a pleasant problem.

What are you trying to say? You are saying that money is not required to spread the Gospel. Why would you think that it is? In Acts 2, they had very little money. In your own life, when has not having money stopped you from being a witness? There is no connection between the two. Ah, for funding missionary activities and paying for television evangelism programs, money is required. Maybe there is some truth in there for you. Maybe TV and programs are not necessary. Helpful, yes, but not necessary. Perhaps even damaging in a way.

Money should be used to help the poor, to care for the sick, to visit those in prison, to love our neighbors. The Gospel will be spread when they see the works we do. "Behold how they love one another". The Spirit bubbles forth. Of course, preachers have to make a living, and missionaries, etc. Someone has to preach and encourage us to be faithful. So clearly some money has to be used for that. But they should not be getting rich.

Clearly, the vision of Jesus that His Kingdom is made up of peacemakers is often forgotten in this world, as the example above shows. I had a manager like the customer above. He would tell me to do something, and the next day he would forget and shout at me for doing it. Turned out he was an alcoholic, and a diabetic. Bad combination. Peacemaking was of course required to keep my job, not really optional. How else can we be peacemakers? In the RC church they have a saying, 'Pray for peace, work for justice'. They teach that there can be no peace without justice. Lebanon is a perfect example. Ceasefires and truces do not represent peace because both sides feel they have been treated unjustly. As peacemakers, do we see our roles as more than just 'making nice' with irritable customers and bosses and spouses? Do we not also need to seek out the source of their anger and seek to ameliorate their pain, if possible? To bring justice? Like Christ?

August 22, 2006 at 9:47 PM  
Anonymous Jason Fry said...

Thom, as long as we're talking about trying to live up to radical ideals that we should strive for but which we know will only find their consummation at the end of the age, why not say that the Church is responsible for using all its resources wisely, which means for furthering God's Kingdom in my estimation, and it's not about distinguishing who is doing a better job, but who is supposed to bring what to the party. So, maybe the Western church gets to bring some material resources, and the two-thirds world church gets to bring effectiveness at reaching the two-thirds world through church-planting, and so forth. So the Church is trying to be the Church by being unified in Christ and knowing Him more fully, which in turn leads to a wiser use of all the resources, gifts, and skills present in the Body, which in turn spreads the Gospel of the Kingdom and brings more people into a saving knowledge of Jesus, helps those who know Jesus know Him better, and brings about positive change in unredeemeded cultures by living out the ethic of Christ, while at the same time experiencing the persecution promised by Christ and rejoicing in that suffering. Instead of criticizing Western Christians for thinking that material resources is the main thing they bring to the cause of Christ, why not help them use those materials more wisely and grow in their self-analysis, and why not help the two-thirds world Christians wean themselves from dependence on the West's money so that those Christians grow in their relationship to Christ through self-sacrifice and so the resources and personnel of the West can be reallocated to new fields?

I'm trying to say that by separating the two kinds of Christians, criticizing one for its faulty assumptions and lauding the other for its peace-making methods, you're keeping both from living up to the Biblical ideal of the Church reaching the world, not the Western Church or the two-thirds world Church each trying to reach the world separately, one doing a good job and one a bad job. Unfortunately, most Western Christians agree with you or make the faulty assumption that you're criticizing. Many of the Christians that I've met here make some of the same assumptions that Western Christians do, mainly because their particular spiritual geneology includes a "rich" Western missionary within three or four generations, and they think that they need to team up with Western money to get any real ministry done.

To steal a quote of Mark's above and use it in an out-of-context way: this unity in purpose thing "still strikes people as utopian, unrealistic, and fantastic. Only the church dare believe it. Only those of faith can see the eschatological future of God's intervention, for without that, this [Great Commission] is utter nonsense."

BTW, I'm not saying we shouldn't criticize Western Christians for the assumptions they've made. You're right, Thom, about one of the problems in the Western Church. I just think our criticism should be balanced, which yours may be, but I wasn't finding enough balance in your statement for my taste.

August 24, 2006 at 12:30 PM  
Anonymous Jason Fry said...

Oh, and I totally agree with the whole "making peace by planting churches" thing. That sounds missional to me, and I like it. I need to read more about "missional" to make sure I'm using the term right :)

August 24, 2006 at 12:34 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

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Thanks, Jason. You're right. What I said was vague. That's why I ended it with a question mark. I'm pretty sure I wasn't thinking that rich Christians were doomed. I don't think I was condenming resourcefulness and good stewardship either. I was only trying to comment on where we tend to put our trust, and I was trying to do it by drawing insights from Mark's good exegesis. If the poor and the destitute can be God's royal peace-making vassals, that seems to subvert our normal assumptions about effectiveness.

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August 24, 2006 at 1:52 PM  
Anonymous Jason Fry said...

Okay, I agree with you then. Thanks!

August 25, 2006 at 3:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just as Augustus and Tiberias both wrought peace through extraordinary cruelty and violence, didn't our GOD do the same?

September 10, 2006 at 10:49 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

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If you'll look at our discussion under the thread "How Far Should We Take This Whole 'Love Our Enemies' Bit?", we discussed just this question at some length. Moreover, to equate the Caesars' violence with the violence of God (which is his perogative as creator) is, I think, quite a misstep. The point, I would contend, is not how God dealt with us in times past, but how he dealt with us in Christ. I think the former should be reevaluated in light of the latter. Perhaps God's "cruelty and violence" in the OT is more a reflection of Israel's character than that of God's.

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September 13, 2006 at 9:44 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

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I did have a further thought about Mark's post, however. If Mark's exegesis is on target, and I think it is, the implication is that the course of history is not in the hands of the rulers but in the hands of ordinary people, even (if not especially) the poor and the powerless. To strip the titles "peacemaker" and "son of God" from Caesar and to hand them to the general populace is to make a cosmic, eschatological statement about the church and the world. It is through the ordinary, ostensibly insignificant servant ministry of the church that God's shalom is finally made a reality. The peace that the powerful perennially promise is actually the peace of the powerless. In short, Christians need not wait for or instigate political revolution by force. The political revolution IS the church. The powerless are the peacemakers--THEY are the "sons of God". Neither Caesar nor Barabbas can promise what Jesus and his followers can produce on their own accord. The peace of God is produced by the suffering presence of the people of God. The new earth regime begins in the church. The resurrection of Jesus is the promise to the powerless that powerlessness, in the end, will turn out to have been true power all along. This is one reason why peace cannot be forged even by a so-called just war, let alone by an ideological crusade like this current war in Iraq. The real peacemakers, the real "sons of God," are the poor, the mournful, the powerless, the righteous, the merciful, the persecuted.

This information does two things: 1) It empowers the powerless. Jesus' message not only gives hope, but strategy, to those without dignity. 2) It imposes an enormous responsibility on all Christians. The state does not nor can it do the peacemaking work of the church. If the church is not out making peace in a world at war with itself, how great is that war! If the light within us is darkness, how great is that darkness!

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September 14, 2006 at 1:04 AM  

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