THE BLISS OF BRINGING MEN TOGETHER
Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called sons of God.
We must begin our study of this beatitude by investigating certain matters of meaning in it.
(i) First, there is the word peace. In Greek, the word is eirene (GSN1515), and in Hebrew it is shalom (HSN7965). In Hebrew peace is never only a negative state; it never means only the absence of trouble; in Hebrew peace always means everything which makes for a man’s highest good. In the east when one man says to another, Salaam–which is the same word–he does not mean that he wishes for the other man only the absence of evil things; he wishes for him tile presence of all good things. In the Bible peace means not only freedom from all trouble; it means enjoyment of all good.
(ii) Second, it must carefully be noted what the beatitude is saying. The blessing is on the peace-makers, not necessarily on the peace-lovers. It very often happens that if a man loves peace in the wrong way, he succeeds in making trouble and not peace. We may, for instance, allow a threatening and dangerous situation to develop, and our defence is that for peace’s sake we do not want to take any action. There is many a person who thinks that he is loving peace, when in fact he is piling up trouble for the future, because he refuses to face the situation and to take the action which the situation demands. The peace which the Bible calls blessed does not come from the evasion of issues; it comes from facing them, dealing with them, and conquering them. What this beatitude demands is not the passive acceptance of things because we are afraid of the trouble of doing anything about them, but the active facing of things, and the making of peace, even when the way to peace is through struggle.
(iii) The King James Version says that the peace-makers shall be called the children of God; the Greek more literally is that the peace-makers will be called the sons (huioi, GSN5207) of God. This is a typical Hebrew way of expression. Hebrew is not rich in adjectives, and often when Hebrew wishes to describe something, it uses, not an adjective, but the phrase son of… plus an abstract noun. Hence a man may be called a son of peace instead of a peaceful man. Barnabas is called a son of consolation instead of a consoling and comforting man. This beatitude says: Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the sons of God; what it means is: Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be doing a God-like work. The man who makes peace is engaged on the very work which the God of peace is doing (Rom.15:33; 2Cor.13:11; 1Th.5:23; Heb.13:20).
The meaning of this beatitude has been sought along three main lines.
(i) It has been suggested that, since shalom (HSN7965) means everything which makes for a man’s highest good, this beatitude means: Blessed are those who make this world a better place for all men to live in. Abraham Lincoln once said: “Die when I may, I would like it to be said of me, that I always pulled up a weed and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow.” This then would be the beatitude of those who have lifted the world a little further on.
(ii) Most of the early scholars of the Church took this beatitude in a purely spiritual sense, and held that it meant: Blessed is the man who makes peace in his own heart and in his own soul. In every one of us there is an inner conflict between good and evil; we are always tugged in two directions at once; every man is at least to some extent a walking civil war. Happy indeed is the man who has won through to inner peace, in which the inner warfare is over, and his whole heart is given to God.
(iii) But there is another meaning for this word peace. It is a meaning on which the Jewish Rabbis loved to dwell, and it is almost certainly the meaning which Jesus had in his mind. The Jewish Rabbis held that the highest task which a man can perform is to establish right relationships between man and man. That is what Jesus means.
There are people who are always storm-centers of trouble and bitterness and strife. Wherever they are they are either involved in quarrels themselves or the cause of quarrels between others. They are trouble-makers. There are people like that in almost every society and every Church, and such people are doing the devil’s own work. On the other hand–thank God–there are people in whose presence bitterness cannot live, people who bridge the gulfs, and heal the breaches, and sweeten the bitternesses. Such people are doing a godlike work, for it is the great purpose of God to bring peace between men and himself, and between man and man. The man who divides men is doing the devil’s work; the man who unites men is doing God’s work.
So, then, this beatitude might read:
O the bliss of those who produce right relationships between man and man, for they are doing a godlike work!
Back to: THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Back to: Barclay’s Commentary