“Peacemakers who sow in peace?” Why our attitude matters.
The recent withdrawal of the United States Army from Afghanistan and the withering speed of the Taliban takeover has been staggering to observe. Terrible pictures of people falling off departing planes have left us disturbed and fearful for the future of the people in that country and even for our own future. Surely we can learn valuable lessons from this tragic story.
Do we know what went wrong in Afghanistan?
Nearly forty years of foreign intervention have not seen peace established. Neither has the loss of untold thousands of lives. We can expect theorists to propose reasons for this failure for decades, but could it be that the would-be peacemakers did not sow in peace?
Could it be that the methodologies that have been adopted have actually served to escalate conflict instead of resolving it?
Jesus sets the benchmark
Jesus’ brother had an interesting take on the challenge of peacemaking. He said, “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:18) It’s worth noticing what he did say and what he didn’t say.
He could have said, “Peacemakers reap a harvest of righteousness,” but he didn’t. Important words are missing from that short sentence. It is not just peacemakers, but “peacemakers who sow in peace” who reap a God-pleasing harvest. In those few additional words, James makes it clear that the way we go about the work of peacemaking matters. Our thoughts matter. Our methods matter. Our attitude matters. Peacemakers who reap a harvest of righteousness are those who “sow in peace.”
Sadly, it’s possible to try to be a peacemaker and only make things worse. Would-be peacemakers who approach a conflicted situation with an attitude of superiority or a desire for vindication for themselves or the people they favour will make things worse, regardless of their intentions.
Jesus instructed us that when we know we’re in conflict with another person, we have a duty to go to them and seek reconciliation. This is reinforced in the Everyday Peacemaking course that also addresses how we should go. We learn about the importance of a soft heart and listening ears that are keen to hear and to understand the other person’s story. We learn about being considerate, so that we don’t try to engage the other person when it’s inconvenient, like at meal-times or when they’re about to have a difficult meeting.
Consider John’s story. His friend, Antonio, had a problem with his neighbour, Ah Lam. It had now gone on for six months. Their relationship had been good before, but when Antonio was pruning his lemon tree, some of the branches that overhung his fence fell into Ah Lam’s yard and Antonio did nothing about it. He meant to. He was going to go over to her place, bring the branches back and put them in his green bin. But he forgot. Ah Lam didn’t.
Then, with all the stay-at-home orders in place, Antonio started mowing his lawn at 8 o’clock on Sundays so he could get it finished before the church service on Zoom. Ah Lam yelled at him for that, and swore at him for the lemon-tree branches. Antonio’s relationship with his neighbour was unravelling fast.
What could Antonio do, now that things had turned sour between him and Ah Lam? He asked John to help him think about how to resolve this conflict and they made some good early progress. John listened attentively and helped Antonio identify several faults on his part. Antonio repented of those things, and even prepared an apology that he wanted to make to Ah Lam. But as with the tree clippings, Antonio never got round to doing it.
Before we judge Antonio too harshly, can any of us say we haven’t been guilty of similar weaknesses in our own behaviour at times?
John became frustrated at Antonio’s reluctance to actually make his apology, so he took matters into his own hands. If Antonio wouldn’t go, he would. He would make peace on Antonio’s behalf. He contacted Ah Lam and made a time to see her to tell her how he’d been coaching Antonio and that Antonio had several things that he wanted to confess.
Ah Lam did not respond well. Predictably. She was annoyed that Antonio hadn’t come himself and she angrily shouted at John, “If Antonio wants to sort this stuff out, he should man up and come here himself. Tell Antonio I think he’s weak, and tell him next time to come and talk to me himself and not send his lackey to do it for him.”
Now not only Antonio had a problem – John did too! Ah Lam was angry with him. Antonio, too, was angry with him when he found out. The man he’d trusted to help had instead intruded himself and his own anxieties into a situation where they didn’t belong. Because John was frustrated and impatient, instead of bringing peace, he had intensified the conflict. He did not go about things the right way. He did not sow in peace and he did not reap a harvest of righteousness.
Peacemakers who honour God in their labours are not those who approach others judgmentally. Nor those who hold fixed views about what reconciliation will look like. Nor those who approach others with a hard heart (or a cold heart). Nor those who want to look good.
Peacemakers, rather, are self-effacing, patient and gentle. They are bringers of hope who are wise enough not to give way to their anxieties but to keep their focus steadily on God who promises that those who sow in peace will reap a harvest of righteousness.
Get practical help on how to be a peacemaker by taking our in person or online Everyday peacemaking training – next courses coming up soon – click here for the best option for you.
Bruce Meller is a retired Presbyterian minister, married to Lorraine and blessed with three adult children, their spouses and ten grandchildren. (The last five include two sets of twin girls: one identical, the other not.) Bruce’s prayer is that each of them might know the peace of God in Christ Jesus and live to be peacemakers in Christ’s service. When not required to be in the office, you will find him delighting in his family, or relaxing in his workshop building model boats, fixing old things and making new things.