By Aleta Payne, Sojo.net
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Social Justice Reflection:
Jesus was a peacemaking, blessed child of God, but he also was an “other.” Reviled and persecuted, he was the paperless son of displaced immigrant parents. The prophetic iconoclast. That guy who hung out with those people, the type most modern leaders would not associate with, except for a photo opportunity at a Thanksgiving Day soup kitchen. Let us remember on Sunday when we celebrate his resurrection, that Jesus was crucified because he was an outsider whose way of doing things scared and angered the powers-that-be.
We have become a nation that loves to “other” people. We point out their differences as reasons they cannot be trusted, as evidence that they take too much from the rest of us or threaten our well-being. We have lengthy, bitter debates about allegiance and legitimacy, and we reject those who do not meet our standards. We know who belongs, and the others need to clear out and leave us alone with our worldly possessions, our rules, and our way of doing things.
There is of course, a problem with that, especially for those of us who consider ourselves followers of Christ. A bunch of problems, actually, starting with those others being exactly the kind of people Jesus calls us to treat with love and respect, the people he shaped his ministry around, and the kind of person he was. Read his Sermon on the Mount and figure out a way to reject our sisters and brothers who have less than or need more than we happen to in this moment.
Beyond specific needs, Jesus expected us to live together and to learn from each other. He called us into community, to be in relationship with one another, and from those relationships, we would live in peace. Because Jesus knew it is a lot harder to be in conflict with people if you really know and value them.
Sister Evelyn Mattern, a saint of the North Carolina Council of Churches, was the kind of peacemaker who would put herself in harm’s way for her sisters and brothers, because she believed everyone matters. In her book, Blessed Are You: The Beatitudes and Our Survival, she wrote:
The Jewish rabbis stressed right relationships as the basis for peace. As Pope Paul VI said, ‘If you want peace, work for justice.’…. Jesus went about not merely loving good, but also doing good. If no one makes the effort to right relationships, they will not be right. They do not spring whole and entire out of the head of the dreamer. God is ultimately the peacemaker and indeed is peace itself, but to be like God we must make peace in God’s name. We have to take the initiative to untangle the knots in the personal and communal webs we inhabit.
Evelyn knew that peace isn’t just noble and global. It begins with how we treat each other on a daily, neighborly, standing-in-the-check-out-line-behind-the-lady-with-47-coupons basis. It is work. By practicing patience, tolerance, and generosity in our unglamorous, carpool driving, working-through-lunch-again lives, we loosen those knots and open ourselves to other people and to living in a community where small acts of kindness – those baby steps toward peace – become ordinary rather than extraordinary.
Clearly, children of God might not always get along, but by blessing the others in the Beatitudes, Jesus reminds us that the community needs every single one of us. And if we choose to live in relationships of respect and welcome, we inherently reject the harsh edge of blame that would cut us apart from one another. Instead, we bind closer together.
Creator God, help us to value and love one another. Help us to remember that peace begins with respect and that even when we don’t agree, every one of us is still your beloved child. May we be worthy of your precious son’s sacrifice made out of his commitment to be savior of us all. Amen.
Aleta Payne oversees communication and development at the North Carolina Council of Churches.
Excerpted from “Preparing the Way: A Social Justice Study Guide for Lent“