The Be-Attitudes #8 – Peacemakers
Matthew 5:9; 38-48
By James Galbraith
First Baptist Church, Port Alberni
March 11, 2007
Mt 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Mt 5:38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
Mt 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
In a world which encourages us to be competitive and aggressive to achieve great things, Jesus calls us to seek peace in our relationships.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to bring peace, to restore the relationship, between man and God. When we seek to bring peace and restore relationships we are following his example.
Peace doesn’t mean there is no conflict, however; it means the relationship is restored and whole again.
Peacemakers serving in the name of Jesus will strive to restore bonds that have been broken by sin. Jesus restores us to God by doing this, and he calls us to strive to do the same sort of thing, on the level we operate at and in the relationships we are in.
He expanded the meaning of peace making later in the same chapter of this gospel. Let us look at two passages which help us understand what it means to bring peace into our relationships with others.
Matthew 5: 38-42 - An Eye for an Eye
A despondent woman was walking along the beach when she saw a bottle on the sand. She picked it up and pulled out the cork.
Whoosh! A big puff of smoke appeared. "You have released me from my prison," the genie told her. "To show my thanks, I grant you three wishes. But take care, for with each wish, your mate will receive double of whatever you request."
"Why?" the woman asked. "That bum left me for another woman."
"That is how it is written," replied the genie.
The woman shrugged and then asked for a million dollars. There was a flash of light, and a million dollars appeared at her feet. At the same instant, in a far-off place, her wayward husband looked down to see twice that amount at his feet.
"And your second wish?" "Genie, I want the world’s most expensive diamond necklace." Another flash of light, and the woman was holding the precious treasure. And, in that distant place, her husband was looking for a gem broker to buy his latest bonanza.
"Genie, is it really true that my husband has two million dollars and more jewels than I do, and that he gets double of whatever I wish for?"
The genie said it was indeed true. "Okay, genie, I’m ready for my last wish," the woman said. "Scare me half to death."
Revenge is a universal connecting point between people.
Simply put, it is getting back at someone for a wrong they have committed against you.
A kid knocks another kid down in the playground. The victim gets up and proceeds to knock the bully down. Vengeance is served.
When we get bad service at the department store, or cut off in traffic, or gossiped about by a co-worker, and we lash back the offending party in order to “even the score”, vengeance is served.
Revenge is never condoned in the Bible.
Leviticus 19:18 tells us, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”
However, the leaders of Jesus’ day, and many people since then, had found a way to justify revenge through the concept of “an eye for an eye”.
Eye for Eye
This principle comes from the Old Testament - it was in the law laid down by God through Moses, and upheld in Israel right up to the day of Christ.
However, it was never meant to justify revenge. Instead, it is intended to guarantee justice for all.
This phrase “eye for eye, tooth for tooth”, comes up three times in the law, and each time it is associated someone who had caused another harm.
In Exodus (21:22-25) it protects the rights of the pregnant woman - if men fighting nearby cause her to be hurt, the man responsible is to receive punishment equal to the harm he caused her - eye for eye, tooth for tooth.
This is to protect the woman’s rights to safety - men would have to take care around women, or they would be subject to judgment
In Leviticus (24:17-22) a simple formula is set out - if a man is found guilty of killing another he is to lose his life as well.
The same principal is applied to those who injure others - if you break someone’s arm yours is to be broken to. etc.
Furthermore, anyone who causes the death of someone’s livestock is to lose the equivalent amount of livestock.
In Deuteronomy (19:16-21) the principle is applied to those who lie under oath. If a man lies about another man’s actions, he is to be punished with the same crime that he lied about!
For example, if he lied about the accused stealing two heads of cattle, then the liar is to receive the punishment for stealing two heads of cattle!
This principle of “eye for eye”, had two effects;
it ensured that the guilty party was held accountable for his crime,
and it also protected him for vendettas and vigilant justice.
Being held accountable ensured that the guilty party of getting away with a crime without facing judgment appropriate to the offense.
Ever since people have walked the face of the earth they have tried to get away with crimes without facing consequences - this principle was meant to show all the Israelis, and those who lived among them, that God demands equal justice for all - no matter what their station in life.
But “eye for eye” also protects the offender from the hostility of those whom he victimized.
In many societies it is entirely acceptable for the family of the victim to go after the accused and dispense whatever form of punishment they see fit.
That may have some appeal in our culture of light punishment for monstrous crimes. People, however, have proven to be very poor judges of what is an acceptable consequence for a criminal act.
1. We live in a world in which some societies will remove the hand of a boy caught stealing bread or an apple.
2. Other societies will lock up members of one race for longer than members of others for similar crimes committed.
3. Still other societies will execute women caught in adultery and smile and wink at the man who slept with her.
No matter where we come from, we seem to live with a perpetual inability to render an appropriate consequence for crimes.
So God laid down a very simple principle to work with - eye for eye, tooth for tooth. Unfortunately, once people got a hold of it they found a way to pervert it’s intention and end up using it as a vehicle for revenge.
Jesus, addressing the people being victimized by this perversion of the law, saw the need for people to take two steps back from where the concept of “eye for eye” had been used in society.
In Jesus’ teaching, not only are we to stop seeking revenge, we are even supposed to bypass our right to the compensation “eye for eye” provided.
Jesus gives three examples to explain what he means. Each of the examples given by Jesus reflect a different perspective on how a victim should react to an attack on them.
Each example also has a deeper lesson within it for us to learn from.
Turning the cheek
In first case, the person struck on the right cheek is to turn his left cheek to the one striking them.
When someone struck another, they most often used their right hand. To strike the right cheek with the right hand requires one to use the back of their hand. This type of blow was considered very humiliating for the victim.
This is the way prisoners were hit by jailers, or slaves struck by owners.
Turning the left cheek to the offender seems to be asking for more of the same, but in fact it changes the relationship between the two.
The victim may still be weaker, but to be struck on the left cheek now requires the offender to use the front of his hand or his fist. In Jesus’ time this was how someone struck out at a person of equal status.
In turning the cheek, the victims causes the offender to recognize him as a person, and not a dog to be beaten or horse to be whipped.
Handing over the cloak
When we get dressed, we put on our first layer of clothes: shirts, pants, sox - that sort of thing. This is the equivalent of the tunic in verse 40.
When we go outside, we add another layer of clothing - sweaters, jackets, rain gear - lots of rain gear. This would be the same as the cloak.
In those days, a man could be sued for his tunic, but the law drew the line at the man’s cloak, the garment worn over the tunic.
This allowed the man to at least have something to wear, not only for his dignity, but also for his survival!
With this in mind, it might look like Jesus is trying to remove that dignity by telling the victim of a lawsuit to strip down to his underwear.
However, we must keep in mind that this is one of three examples meant to teach an underlying principle. I doubt very much that Jesus expected his followers to walk in their underwear!
Behind this example is the idea of returning even more than what we have to when we are found to be in debt to others. Jesus is calling us to be people who actively make restitution for our debts and then go even farther.
As in the concept of “turn the other cheek”, His teaching causes the perception of the victim to be changed.
Instead of being an unsuccessful defendant they are now seeking the best they can give to the other person; they go from trying to duck responsibility to making a personal sacrifice.
And if the accused is not actually guilty of the lawsuit, this effect is even more amplified. When Christians are trapped by unfair treatment, they can yell and fight like everyone else, or they can turn the tables by moving into a relationship in which they are actually rendering assistance to those who would hurt them.
Easily said, I know. A lot harder to do - especially if we are the ones being treated unfairly. It’s a lot easier, and our right, to holler “not fair” and fight hard to get out.
But there will always be situations where we get trapped by unfair treatment, and Jesus is showing us how to make something good out of it.
Life’s not fair, but we always have the choice of how we react to unfairness.
Walking the extra mile
In the days of Jesus, the Roman soldier had the right to force a civilian to carry the soldier’s luggage - his pack and belongings, for one “roman mile”. A roman mile was 1000 paces of about five feet each, or about 1.5k.
The soldiers were given this right so that they would not get worn out traveling with all their gear, and yet they were restrained by the limit of one mile in order that those pressed into service would not be overly abused.
Still, being forced to carry their gear was quite humiliating, people pressed into this service most likely feel “ill will” toward the soldier they served.
Jesus is telling us to take this kind of assault on our person and turn it into an opportunity to do a good deed.
When someone decides to “go the extra mile”, they are using their freedom to choose - and again, the relationship between the two people changes.
The task master now becomes the object of the victim’s will; he still benefits the other’s efforts but the victim is a victim no longer.
This extra mile concept goes far beyond luggage carrying. We all have relationships in which we are expected to do certain things.
Jesus is telling us that we have the power to make an obligation into an opportunity. We can take a chore and turn it into a service rendered voluntarily; if we are willing to “go the extra mile”.
And after these three examples,
Jesus the tells us to not hesitate to lend to those who ask and to give to those in need.
Now, what relation does giving and borrowing have with being hit, being sued, or being put to work unfairly?
Look at theses things as a progression. In three sentences, he has walked his listeners through being assaulted, being sued, being inconvenienced and now being borrowed and begged from.
In a sense, all of these examples are all attacks on us as people.
Being hit with a fist or with a lawsuit - both hurt deeply, in different ways. Nobody likes being put to work unfairly.
And we usually do not like people asking for money from us,
whether as a gift or as a loan.
Any of these situations can lead us into a spirit in which we actively seek the worst for the other person. We want to hit back, counter sue, make the other party work harder, tell the beggar to get a job or the borrower to put their hands in someone else’s pocket.
Jesus tells us to do something different. When we are in situations seeking revenge toward a person intruding on our life, we are to react in a way that makes things better - not worse.
5: 43-48 - Love your enemies
This is one of the most well known teachings of Jesus – that we should not hate, but rather love, our enemies. As with the last paragraph, he starts off with a commonly held assumption - that God wants us to love those around us - our neighbors - but hate our enemies.
And again, he is dealing with a concept that had become perverted by society at large.
It is very true that God teaches us to, ‘Love your neighbor”. We read in Leviticus, 19:18: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.
Indeed, this very command is repeated by Jesus himself as one of the two foundations for the entire code of law under God - “Love the Lord your God and Love your neighbor as yourself”
However, it says no where in Scripture to “hate your enemies”! This was added to the command by the Pharisees - the leaders of the day.
They believed that the people’s hatred of their enemies was God’s way of judging those who opposed them. In doing this, they justified their hatred toward their opponents by saying it was God judging evil through them.
We still do this today, when we take something we don’t like and then justify our hate for it by saying God hates it, too.
It’s not the first or last time that humans have tried to sit in God’s judgment seat, or used God’s judgment as an excuse for their own prejudices.
We have “God hates Fags” websites for those whose favorite sin to hate is homosexuality.
We have White Supremacist groups that use God to justify their racism and incorporate Christian rituals into their vulgar practices.
I remember a pamphlet I read once about how rock music was based on African drum beats, which were used to summon evil spirits. We should all therefore stay away form this evil music.
In one document these people managed to transform their personal distaste for one style of music into a condemnation from God and a side slap at those of African ancestry.
It’s a terrible practice that should make Christians everywhere sick, for God never called us to “hate our enemies”, and he certainly never asked us to use his name to justify our prejudices.
In contrary to this practice, Jesus comes right out and says - “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you”.
The King James translation of the Bible inserts, “Bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you” into this statement.
Scholars argue about whether Jesus actually said them, since there is evidence that shows that they may have been added after the New Testament was complete.
However, they are certainly good descriptions of what Jesus is getting at, for part of loving people is to bless them and do good to them.
Whether you read the regular version or the expanded version, you should still come out with the same conclusion - Jesus is calling us to stop hating those who are against us and start loving them.
When we do this, we behave as his children, imitating the love that God has for all of mankind.
And just to make sure that we get the point, he quickly gives three situations to think about.
Sun and Rain
The first fact Jesus shares is how God causes it to rain and shine on all, regardless of whether or not they love him.
Those who love God will get sunny periods, snow flurries, rain storms and hurricanes. And so too will those who hate him.
This analogy can be applied to any area of life you like. Financial, spiritual, intellectual, physical - any “al” you want. In all things there will be times of ease and times of hardship.
Now, if God is willing to allow everybody equal treatment and opportunity, should we not imitate him and do the same? That Jesus’ first point.
Love and rewards
After this statement, Jesus then makes two comparisons that are designed to really get at the self-righteous attitudes of the leaders of the day.
The first one takes our inclination to show love to those who love us back.
It is a natural reaction to love those who show love to us - we’re made that way. Love is a reciprocal thing, so when someone shows us love in some way we should be inclined to show it back.
The leaders were so proud of themselves because they did so many good deeds, yet these deeds were invariably done for those who showed them the respect and admiration that they craved. They boasted of these good deeds - “the more, the better” - they thought and taught.
Jesus takes their pride and compares them to the class of people that they would have despised most - the tax collectors around them.
In doing so, he is saying that you can be as nice to your friends as you like - but this doesn’t make you any better then those you despise the most.
The tax collectors were a good example to use - because everybody hated them. The class of tax collector he is speaking of were local people, former friends and neighbours, that had agreed to help the Romans collect taxes.
They were considered traitors by those that they collected from and they were also despised because of the contact they had with the outsiders.
Jesus couldn’t have picked a group of people who the leaders would hate more, and to be compared to them would have been intolerable.
But of course, Jesus was right. Showing love to those who love us is a good thing, but it doesn’t make you any better than anyone else.
Jesus knew that the real test of love was to show it to those who won’t show it back. That IS a test, and one that he showed us how to pass with an A+.
Jesus spent thirty three years living amongst those who didn’t always show him the love he deserved, and then he gave his very life for each and every one of us - regardless of how we felt about him at the time.
Remember the words he said as the hammer came down on the nails? “Forgive them, for they know not what they do…”
When you look at the way this phrase is written, he could have been repeating this again and again as he went through the torture of the cross.
Jesus passed the test of loving those who did not love him, and in doing so he left us an example to follow.
A Simple Hello
Of course, showing love doesn’t have to mean dying for someone. It can be as much as a simple “hello” as you pass by someone on the street.
I believe that is what Jesus is getting at with his last example. A greeting is sign of acknowledgment - when someone says hello to you they are showing that at least they care enough to acknowledge you as a person.
And most often that’s good enough! We don’t need to be swamped with gushing affection every time someone passes by - we’d end up hiding in our homes for fear of being smothered with affection!
Now as God’s people do you think we should get brownie points for greeting each other with a warm hello? Of course not! You don’t have to be a Christian to say “Hello, how are you?” Everyone - well - almost everyone - does that!
And this is the point Jesus makes. Giving a friend a warm handshake is good, but it’s no better than anyone else.
If you want to begin to know what love is, show some of that love to someone who you can’t stand, and start with a simple “Hello”.
This starting point works on all kinds of man-made barriers.
How do we begin to bridge the gaps that have formed between cultures living in the same region? We start with “hello”.
For example, Catholics and Protestants in many areas are drawing closer and closer together as we strive to bring peace where there has been division and misunderstanding. Where did this reconciliation start? with a Hello.
Does “hello” always work? Of course not; it’s not magic! But it’s where we start.
After sharing his examples of loving those who oppose us, Jesus ends this whole chapter with nine words which just do not seem fair.
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect.”
That’s one of those lines that provokes me to respond ‘Easy for you to say, Jesus - you had a bit of a head start on us there.
After trying to get us to love those who may not love us back, you would think that he would come up with something easier than that!
However, this calling isn’t meant to bring us down.
He has spent this chapter encouraging and commanding us to be distinct form those around us.
The leaders of the day had the appearance of perfection down to an art. They dressed right, they acted right, they though they were right. But inside they were more lost then the prostitutes and tax collectors they despised.
Jesus has finished a set of commands which boil down to one thing - being the real thing.
Being perfect is the sum of this calling. If Jesus called us to anything less we would eventually get there - and then we’d look around and say “I’ve made it”
When we do this, we’re no better than the hypocrites Jesus warned us not to imitate. We end up comparing ourselves with others and saying, “hey - not bad” - and our achievements become the conceit that unravels us.
However, when we strive for perfection, we know that we’re not going to make it on our own. We will, however, grow and grow and grow. We’ll grow in love, in compassion, in mercy, and all the other things that Jesus calls us to grow in this chapter.
And every time we grow we’ll be closer and closer to the perfection that Jesus calls us to. It is our reward for a live lived for him, and it is a reality that we will enjoy in Heaven with him.
Now getting back to loving your enemies, I want to close with a beautiful true story I read this last week - a story that I think shows how we should love those who oppose us.
Keep in mind that doing this doesn’t always mean jumping in front of bullets or getting knocked around or things like that.
Baseball for our family is a loved and cherished sport. All three of four children played, beginning with t-ball. The baby of the family, Rowdy, started playing ball in the front yard with his daddy at the age of two years old. So by the time he was four, Rowdy was more than ready to play.
I remember one game when Rowdy was six. He was on the pitcher’s mound. They were winning and Rowdy was thrilled. He was really serious about this game.
There was a child on the other team who suffered from Downs Syndrome. He came up to bat -- because he wasn’t fast enough to get to first base, he always batted last. Every time the boy struggled to get to first, Rowdy would watch his own teammates get him out easily.
At the little boy’s last turn to bat, he hit the ball straight to Rowdy on the mound. Rowdy reached down to get it and then it was like a light went on in his head. He bobbled the ball and then kicked it around with his feet. The boy ran for he was worth, head hanging down, and made it to first.
I stood there watching my son fumble with the ball. My friend Lola, whose son played on the same team, noticed what was happening too.
The boy ran on toward second. Rowdy continued to act like he couldn’t get a hand on the ball as the boy made it to third.
We stood there, both of us crying, for Rowdy was showing us that there are more important things in life than making an out. He was exhibiting compassion in the truest sense.
Rowdy’s teammates were screaming at him but eventually followed his lead. Rowdy just smiled and watched the little boy run toward home. He ran across home plate with a grin as big as Texas on his face. It was the first time he had ever scored in his whole life and he was so proud. His
daddy ran out to him at home plate and you should have seen their faces. That boy scored so much more than a run that day.
It was a special moment in time for each and every person there. What a wonderful world it would be if we all could be as compassionate as Rowdy and his teammates were that day!
I have never been a prouder mother than I was on that day. Rowdy still plays baseball. He pitches and is very good at it. But that was a run worth remembering!
That’s a kid who showed love to someone who “opposed” him. All too often we put our kids into situations where other kids are considered ‘the enemy”.
This boy’s willingness to let the ‘enemy” run the bases inspired his teammates to do the same, and the lives of all who were their that day were affected.
May we have the courage, faith and love to keep our eyes open for these kind of opportunities, and may God be glorified as we love our enemies.