Bringing Shalom to the City
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
I have heard this beatitude all of my life. My first somewhat serious engagement with the meaning of it was on a playground in elementary school as two fellow classmates were rolling in the grass and a third student was trying to pull them apart while shouting, “Blessed are the peacemakers!” I wondered to myself, “Is that what this beatitude is about? Trying to stop a fight?”
A couple of years ago, I had another experience that caused me to re-engage this beatitude. I was at my son’s baseball practice at a nearby park in our urban neighborhood. On one side was a playground and on the other a crude baseball diamond and backstop. A few kids were playing on the playground equipment while my son was practicing hitting and base running with his team.
While observing practice, I noticed out of the corner of my eye an ever-growing crowd starting to move toward the baseball area. At the center of this crowd were a mother and a grandmother who were quite upset. They were shouting, emotional, and pretty loud. Surrounding them were teenagers and other children who were getting wound up about what might transpire. Before long, this group had invaded our practice space, causing our coach to pause our practice.
Apparently, the center of the argument was that the mother’s child had hurt the grandmother’s grandchild on the playground. The mother said it was an accident, but the grandmother was not convinced. There might not be anything more dangerous than an upset grandmother protecting her wounded grandchild! It was very clear to everyone that a big “rumble” was about to happen. As I watched this unfold, I began to wonder, “What is my role in this? What does this beatitude have to do with this situation? How should I react?”
The idea of peace in Scripture is rooted in the Hebrew word shalom, which is more than the absence of war. Rather, it is the building of a harmonious, flourishing community full of forgiveness, grace, justice, and reconciliation. Churches are called to build this shalom within the neighborhoods and cities in which they reside. They are to offer hope, healing, and mercy to the broken realities around them.
And yet in that moment on the playground, I did not want to do that. Bringing shalom in this situation would mean entering a dangerous fray. It would require sticking my nose into something that was not really any of my business. There was a risk involved—as there always is with shalom. However, if I did not step in, this ruckus would potentially harm others around me. In that moment, I was reminded of an important truth. To bring shalom is not simply hoping shalom will happen. It is being willing to humbly enter the broken mess of the world in the name of Christ so that what is broken may be put back together by his Spirit.
So I decided to do just that. I, along with the coach, stepped into the fracas. I invited the grandmother to walk with me. I introduced myself and asked her name. I told her I was a minister at a church just a few blocks away, and she started to explain to me the situation. In a few moments, the conflict defused and shalom started to return to the neighborhood park.
That episode has become a reminder to me of the invitation that this beatitude offers: to follow the footsteps of Jesus, God’s Son, by humbly entering the broken realities around us to build shalom to the glory of God. Maybe that is why the promise offered to being a “shalom-maker” is that we too become children of God.