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Saturday, August 1, 2020


*We continue our reflections on the beatitudes of Jesus

~Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God~

The peacemakers constitute the seventh beatitude. The number seven is not insignificant. The Jewish tradition is enormously preoccupied with numbers. No number is without consequence, especially the number seven. God himself seemed to really like it. He ordered Noah to bring seven pairs of every clean animal onto the ark (Gen 7:2). The priests were to sprinkle blood seven times before him for the sacrifices (Lev 4:6). That one kid sneezed seven times before rising from the dead (2 Kings 4:35 ― this is really in the text!). The list goes on. Most important for our purposes, though, is that there were seven days of creation in the book of Genesis. Believe it or not, there is a way of interpreting Jesus’s seventh beatitude as a subtle reference to the creation of the world. It turns around the idea of “peace” ― “blessed are the ‘peacemakers.’”

The Hebrew word for “peace” is shalom. What the Jewish people have in mind when they talk about peace or shalom is much more than the absence of war. Neither is shalom the achievement of some undisturbed repose or finding isolation from the restlessness of the world. In fact, to discover what shalom means, one must look at the story of creation. In Genesis, God creates the world across six days, steadily crafting and populating the cosmos. There is Day and there is Night. There is sky, and water, and land. Trees and fruits. “Swarms of living creatures.” And so on and so forth all the way up to human beings. But we should notice that, in the text, after each day of God’s creative acts, God looked out at what he’d made and “saw that it was good” (Gen 1:4, etc.). In the beginning, a cosmic unity flowed through and marked the creation. All was in balance. All was rightly ordered. All was good. 

This is shalom. This is what the Jewish-Christian tradition means by “peace” ― that original harmony in the Garden of Eden. Shalom means humanity at peace with the earth and its creatures, with God, and even with itself. It means, again, not just a lack of tension or war ― this is not just a time, for instance, when the animals didn’t attack each other ― but also a real positive communion and unity between God, humanity, and creation. It is, as the prophet Isaiah put it, a peace where “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the goat … and a little child shall lead them…. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain” (Is 11:6, 9).

Most beautiful of all, I think, is what happens on the seventh day: “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished. And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had done, and he rested” (Gen 2:1-2). In the Jewish mind, it’s not that, on the seventh day, worn out from his efforts, God did nothing. On the contrary, God participated in the shalom by simply being with us in it. On the seventh day, God enjoyed the harmony of shalom. This is why “God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested” (Gen 2:3).

This is, of course, where we get the tradition of the Sabbath ― the day of rest, the day of shalom. Indeed, the great hope of Judaism and Christianity is that all days could someday be the Sabbath, could be shalom. To this day, upon seeing each other, the Jewish greeting is “shalom aleichem” ― “peace be with you.” The peace and shalom of the Garden be with you.

This is precisely the reason Jesus makes the peacemakers his seventh beatitude. This was, again, no coincidence for a Jewish rabbi. But what about the second half of this beatitude? Why does Jesus say the peacemakers will be called “sons of God”? Well this, too, has something to do with Genesis and the creation story.

In that same narrative we read about how Adam and Eve ― how all human beings ― are created “in God’s own image and likeness” (Gen 1:26). It’s an odd phrase ― “image and likeness” ― but what it means becomes clear a few chapters later. In chapter 5, Adam and Eve have their third son. The text says that, “Adam became the father of a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth” (Gen 5:3). What it means, then, to be made “in the image and likeness” of something is to be a son or to be a daughter. You and I ― made in God’s image and likeness ― are sons and daughters of God, in the same way Seth is a son of Adam and a son of Eve. 

Let’s put it all together, then. “Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called sons of God.” This is the seventh beatitude ― the one that points us back to creation, to the Garden. For Jesus, the ones who most embody their calling as sons and daughters of God ― the calling instilled in us in our creation ― are those who seek peace. For Jesus, the ones who most embody what it means to be a son or a daughter of God ― the ones who live according to the beatitudes ― are those who seek to spread the shalom of the Garden, those who seek that mountain where “none shall hurt or destroy,” even if they’ll only finally arrive in the world to come. This is the heart of Christian peace and Christian peacemaking. 


~Anthony Rosselli (PhD cand., theology, University of Dayton) writes out of St. Luke and Ascension Parishes in Franklin County, Vermont. These columns are archived here.

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