Mark Shea: Blessed are the Peacemakers and the Persecuted

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Part 4 of Mark’s series exploring the Beatitudes

One of the little oddities of Scripture is that the traditional reading of it tends to smooth out the text to make it easier to digest and memorise.  Like a rough stone in a running stream, the flow of time over the text of Scripture tends to round it out.

So, for instance, what Jewish tradition calls the “Ten Words” and the Christian tradition calls the Ten Commandments does not, in fact, neatly divvy up into Ten Commandments.  The result is that, depending on different traditions and translations (and which book of the Bible you are reading since the Ten Commandments appears in both Exodus and Deuteronomy), the Ten Commandments are rendered in two ways.

You either break apart the first and second commandments (Don’t worship other gods/Don’t make graven images) and fold together the ninth and tenth commandments (Don’t covet your neighbour’s stuff/Don’t covet your neighbour’s wife) or you fold together the former and break apart the latter.  Catholic tradition tends to do the latter while some Protestant traditions do the former.

One result of these differences is the absurd claim by some Fundamentalists that the Church has “deleted” the prohibition against grave images so that we can “worship statues”.  But, of course, a quick perusal of any Catholic Bible reveals that Exodus 20:4 and Deuteronomy 5:8 are there just as much as in any other Bible.  It’s just a matter of human beings smoothing things out to get the gist of the idea across in catechism classes down the centuries.

Same with the Beatitudes.  Eight is nice round number.  Luke 6 has four parallel blessings and woes—eight sayings in all.  Matthew 5 has nine “Blessed are” sayings.  But since the last two are both blessings pronounced on the Persecuted, catechetical tradition has rounded Matthew’s Beatitudes down to eight as well.  It’s a little reminder that the Scriptures are, among other things, family treasures handed on to us by millions of hands who have themselves received them from our ancestors in faith.  We are not left to our own devices.  Others have explored them before us.

It is remarkable that the blessing Jesus pronounces on peacemakers is that they shall be called sons of God.  This is, after all, not only his divine title, but our adoptive status in baptism.

To be a peacemaker is not as fun as it sounds.  The reward of the peacemaker is very often the hatred of both sides in a war and the reward of death men give those they perceive to be threats or traitors.  The prophets all had one aim in view, the peace of God for rebellious human beings.  Their reward?

“Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and scourging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated.” (Hebrews 11:35-37)

The apostles were nearly all murdered. Abraham Lincoln tried to bring peace to an America chained to slavery and was murdered for it.  A century later, Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to do the same thing non-violently and a grateful nation killed him too.  And no wonder.  As Paul tells us of the Prince of Peace, he makes peace “by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20). Those who seek to make peace should prepare to share that cross.

No wonder Jesus therefore concludes his Beatitudes with blessings for those persecuted for “righteousness’ sake”–which appears to equate in his mind with all those persecuted “falsely on my account”.  The implications of this are profound.  It appears very much as though Jesus sees any attempt costly to do the right thing as an act of obedience to him, whether or not the person attempting it has any conscious knowledge of him or not.

This makes sense, of course, since Jesus’ grace is not limited by our cleverness or learning.  We are bound by the sacraments, but God is not bound.  So as Paul says, “When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts” (Romans 2:14-15).

In short, those who seek to make peace or who suffer for righteousness are not rewarded apart from Christ’s grace.  Rather, they show they are responding to his grace already at work in their hearts.

One of the little oddities of Scripture is that the traditional reading of it tends to smooth out the text to make it easier to digest and memorise.  Like a rough stone in a running stream, the flow of time over the text of Scripture tends to round it out.

So, for instance, what Jewish tradition calls the “Ten Words” and the Christian tradition calls the Ten Commandments does not, in fact, neatly divvy up into Ten Commandments.  The result is that, depending on different traditions and translations (and which book of the Bible you are reading since the Ten Commandments appears in both Exodus and Deuteronomy), the Ten Commandments are rendered in two ways.

You either break apart the first and second commandments (Don’t worship other gods/Don’t make graven images) and fold together the ninth and tenth commandments (Don’t covet your neighbour’s stuff/Don’t covet your neighbour’s wife) or you fold together the former and break apart the latter.

Catholic tradition tends to do the latter while some Protestant traditions do the former.  One result of these differences is the absurd claim by some Fundamentalists that the Church has “deleted” the prohibition against grave images so that we can “worship statues”.  But, of course, a quick perusal of any Catholic Bible reveals that Exodus 20:4 and Deuteronomy 5:8 are there just as much as in any other Bible.  It’s just a matter of human beings smoothing things out to get the gist of the idea across in catechism classes down the centuries.

Same with the Beatitudes.  Eight is a nice round number.  Luke 6 has four parallel blessings and woes—eight sayings in all.  Matthew 5 has nine “Blessed are” sayings.  But since the last two are both blessings pronounced on the Persecuted, catechetical tradition has rounded Matthew’s Beatitudes down to eight as well.  It’s a little reminder that the Scriptures are, among other things, family treasures handed on to us by millions of hands who have themselves received them from our ancestors in faith.  We are not left to our own devices.  Others have explored them before us.

It is remarkable that the blessing Jesus pronounces on peacemakers is that they shall be called sons of God.  This is, after all, not only his divine title, but our adoptive status in baptism.

To be a peacemaker is not as fun as it sounds.  The reward of the peacemaker is very often the hatred of both sides in a war and the reward of death men give those they perceive to be threats or traitors.  The prophets all had one aim in view, the peace of God for rebellious human beings.  Their reward?

“Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and scourging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated.” (Hebrews 11:35-37)

The apostles were nearly all murdered. Abraham Lincoln tried to bring peace to an America chained to slavery and was murdered for it.  A century later, Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to do the same thing non-violently and a grateful nation killed him too.  And no wonder.  As Paul tells us of the Prince of Peace, he makes peace “by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20). Those who seek to make peace should prepare to share that cross.

No wonder Jesus therefore concludes his Beatitudes with blessings for those persecuted for “righteousness’ sake”–which appears to equate in his mind with all those persecuted “falsely on my account”.  The implications of this are profound.  It appears very much as though Jesus sees any attempt costly to do the right thing as an act of obedience to him, whether or not the person attempting it has any conscious knowledge of him or not.

This makes sense, of course, since Jesus’ grace is not limited by our cleverness or learning.  We are bound by the sacraments, but God is not bound.  So as Paul says, “When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts” (Romans 2:14-15).

In short, those who seek to make peace or who suffer for righteousness are not rewarded apart from Christ’s grace.  Rather, they show they are responding to his grace already at work in their hearts.

Related: