9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Makoto Fujimura is a Japanese-American artist who is also a Christian. In his very insightful book, Beauty and Silence, he tells the story of another Japanese artist, Sen no Rikyu.
Sen no Rikyu (1522–1591) was one of the greatest innovators to come out of Japanese soil. Rikyu lived in the era leading up to Christian persecution. He was born to a merchant in Osaka (Sakai) in the early sixteenth century. His given name was Yoshiro Tanaka; he later was named Sen no Rikyu in a Buddhist rite. He studied the traditional form of tea under several masters in Sakai, then at Daitoku-ji Temple in Kyoto. He had a close relationship with the warlord Hideyoshi (who eventually ordered Rikyu’s seppuku demise and ordered the official persecution of Christians to begin) and with Christian missionaries at the same time. His wife Oriki (one of two wives), who was present when he was forced to end his life at the age of seventy-one, was one of the early converts to Christianity when the capital of Kyoto took hold of the Christian message….
Rikyu gave an architectural structure to this refinement of hiddenness in his design of tea rooms. Through Rikyu’s architecture of tea the missionaries of the sixteenth century learned of tea. His were much smaller in size than most; traditionally, tea was part of a banquet culture in China, and consequently many tea rooms were quite large. The smaller size of Rikyu’s tea rooms allowed particular focus on the minute particulars of the movement of hands, subtle gestures of the placement of flowers, and often hidden messages behind the choice of utensils or paintings in the room. Rikyu was first linked with an ostentatiously ornate golden room in Osaka that Hideyoshi desired, but he began to move toward wabi simplicity as he matured in his aesthetics. His most distinct contribution is in the creation of nijiri-guchi, a small square entry port designed for the guest to enter the tea house. Rikyu’s nijiri-guchi were so small that they forced everyone to bow and remove their swords in order to enter the tea room.
Rikyu created a space dedicated to repose, communication and peace. Deep communication can only take place through a path of vulnerability. In other words, the only way to escape the violent cycle of the age of feudal struggles is to remove one’s sword; then, in safety, one can communicate truly.
It is a provocative image, and one that I think is essential to the New Testament vision of relationships within the body of Christ: humble yourself and remove your swords before engaging with others. What Sen no Rikyu was doing was creating an environment for peace in which actual conversation and authentic relationship could happen. He was, in other words, being a peacemaker.
That is what Jesus has called all of us to in Matthew 5:9. We are called to be peacemakers. What I would like for us to do now is consider three of the most neglected steps of peacemaking. These are things that likely none of us are very good at but that all of us are called to. If embraced, these will go a long way towards helping us take off our swords and humble ourselves. It could be that you need to apply these neglected steps in your own conflicts with others. It could be that you are not involved in the conflict but you need to help others practice these steps. Either way, you will be a peacemaker by embracing these.
Neglected Step 1: Intentionally strive to keep the circle of conflict as small and as private as possible until it becomes absolutely necessary to expand it.
The first neglected step of peacemaking has to do with how many people you involve in the conflict in which you find yourself. Matthew 18 is traditionally viewed as Christ’s instructions on how to handle church discipline, and this is not a mistaken understanding, but we can also look at this as a model for conflict resolution in general.
15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
Notice that there are expanding circles of involvement:
- Go alone: “just between the two of you”
- Expand the circle a bit: “take one or two others along”
- Expand the circle further: “tell it to the church”
This is not to say, I hasten to add, that every disagreement should end up before the church. Again, Jesus is speaking here of one person sinning against another person. But the principle still stands: you should involve as few people as possible at any given step in conflict resolution so as to minimize misunderstanding and group entrenchment.
If the goal is maintaining the peace of Christ in the body of Christ then this makes sense. If the goal is victory at all costs then this does not make sense. But for Christians, our goal must be the former and not the latter. We should not desire to win, we should desire to maintain the peace and unity and witness of the body of Christ.
This means that when you feel you have been wronged, your first step should most definitely not be to text your friends! No, according to what Jesus teaches, your first step should be direct, private communication with you and the other person alone. Then, if it is resolved, Jesus says, “you have won them over.”
I cannot stress how important this really is. What keeps conflict from entering the bloodstream of the greater body of Christ is precisely when two Christians sit down together in private without having told a soul and then try to resolve the conflict. If that does not resolve it, and if the problem is of such a nature that it truly necessitates expanding the circle, then you can do so with one or two others. Even then, we are striving diligently to protect the unity of the church and keep the circle small.
This is hard work and it is also, from a fleshly perspective, much less “fun” than entrenching with our friends and demonizing the other person behind his or her back. But if the goal is resolution and peacemaking, this is the only way.
Neglected Step 2: Always view the person with whom you are conflicting from the perspective of the cross and resist the temptation to devalue them.
The second neglected step has to do with how we view or think about the person with whom we are in conflict. Simply put, we must ever and always view one another from the perspective of Christ and, specifically, from the perspective of the cross. In Philippians 2, Paul writes:
1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus
Paul goes on to say that the cross was in the mindset of Christ. He came to embrace the cross so that we might be saved. He came to set aside His glory and take the humiliation of the cross for us. And this, Paul writes, is exactly what we must do for one another. Note that this mindset is not merely for when we are getting along. On the contrary, if our mindset is to be the mindset of Christ as He approached the cross, then we must value one another precisely when we think the other person might be trying to destroy us! It is an unbelievable thought, but it is at the heart of the gospel of Jesus.
Nobody likes to be talked about. I do not. You do not either. Have you noticed the unfettered righteous indignation you feel when you hear that somebody else has spoken against you? Do you not want to share that with others, immediately, so that you can form a support group of outrage. All of this, of course, is in service of our own egos. We gather our friends around us because we want people to say, “No, they are wrong! You are wonderful! They are wicked!”
When this happens, the process of devaluation and demonization begins. We return insult with insult. We dehumanize the person who criticized us. We magnify their faults out of all proportion while also (and this should not be missed) seeking to magnify our alleged virtues. We do not see them through the eyes of Christ. We see them through the eyes of Satan. That is, we see them as worthless, as somebody who perhaps should not even be alive!
The mind of Christ within us wars against such assaults. In Matthew 5, Christ twice addresses this.
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
Resist the temptation to hate those who wrong you. Within the Church, see them always as brothers or sisters for whom Christ died. Outside the Church, view them as people for whom Christ died who might in time become brothers and sisters! Do not view them as less than you or as an enemy to be vanquished. But rather, if they are mistaken, view them as simply that: mistaken but still loved.
I once knew two grown men who had a bitter conflict. What happened was one of the men mentioned to the other’s son that he had big ears. This caused the father of the boy to grow greatly offended. He refused to speak to the other. They hit a wall. They could not move forward in their relationship. Finally, the man who had made the offensive remark showed up at the other’s house with steak! The two men talked it through and their relationship was healed.
The whole thing struck many of us as humorous. There was something so primal about it all. I can imagine one cave man bringing another cave man meat to right a wrong: “Grog kill bear. Grog bring meat to Ug. Grog and Ug friends again!” Again, it is hard not to chuckle, until, that is, we remember that we are all prone to such silly pettiness.
On a serious note, however, it is powerful to remember that a sacrifice, an offering, has been made so that we can live in peace with one another. I speak of the cross! Christ gave Himself so that, among other very important things, we might live at peace with one another! It is only when we view each other in this light (i.e., as people for whom Christ died) that we can truly have peace!
Neglected Step 3: See the Church as “your group” instead of “your group” as “your group.”
The third neglected step has to do with the innate human tendency toward tribalism, that is, toward congregating with your particular group of like-minded people, this with whom you naturally get along. Every large group in human history consists of sub-groups within them. I would argue that this is not necessarily always bad. For instance, in a church of any size you will have some folks who gravitate towards one another because they have a common interest. Perhaps it is that your kids go to the same school. Perhaps it is that you all like to hunt. Perhaps it is that you grew up together. Again, in and of itself, these kinds of groups are fine and there is no reason to ask that people with things in common, even within a church, not find themselves naturally drawn to one another’s company.
The problem comes when these groups calcify into self-contained entities within the church and thereby create an “us/them” mentality that leads effectively to the devaluing of the church at large. Put another way, the problem comes when your group of like-minded friends eclipses the church the way that the moon, which is so much smaller than the sun, eclipses the sun! Put yet another way: the problem is when you and your friends become a church unto yourselves and come to value your own commonly-shared preferences more than the mission of the church at large. When this happens, the stage is set for conflict, for then the agenda of your group becomes more important than the calling and the identity of the church itself.
Here is how that happens. One person wrongs another person, or, at least, that is the perception. That person withdraws into their group, their tribe. They share the wrong. The group expresses outrage together. “How could he!” “How could she!” Then the group begins a mining expedition, remembering various other things that person has said or done. Then the fatal comment is made: “Well, she hangs out with —–, and they are all like that.”
In the meantime, the one who caused or who is perceived as having caused the offense notices the distance. Maybe she understands why the distance is there. Maybe she has no idea what has happened. But the distance is seen because the offended tribe begins to withdraw and to passively aggressively do and say things to communicate offense. So that person withdraws into her tribe. “They sure are acting distant to me,” she says. Her tribe surrounds her, affirming her virtues and pressing the other’s rudeness most likely out of proportion. Finally, the fatal comment is made: “Well, she hangs out with —–, and they are all like that.”
This is how entrenchment happens. The lines are drawn. The foxholes are dug. Then a war complete with singular acts of guerilla warfare happen. This person snipes at this person. That person refuses to turn and look at the other at the red light though he knows he is there. This person unfriends that one on Facebook. Children do not get invited to parties. Seats in the sanctuary are strategically shifted so as to communicate displeasure. This person goes missing for a few weeks and then watches carefully to see if anyone calls to inquire where he is. Etc. etc. etc.
In this way, individual tribes become bigger than the Church at large. The war that the Church ought to be waging against the devil and his schemes is suddenly made to be less important than this battle between two tribes ostensibly on the same side!
While it is natural and normal to be drawn to folks like yourself, see the Church as “your group” instead of “your group” as “your group” and never let your group become the most important thing! To understand the importance of this, we must understand the radical picture the New Testament gives us of our common life together in and through Christ. In 1 Peter 2, Peter writes:
1 Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. 2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.
Notice that Peter first articulates various community-destroying elements of which we must “rid ourselves”: “all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.” Meaning, do not act in anger toward one another, do not act dishonestly with one another, do not act hypocritically toward one another, do not act with envy, and do not say vicious things about one another. But how? How are we to reject such things?
4 As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
We rid ourselves of these community-destroying elements by coming to Jesus and by allowing Him to build us up into a spiritual house. Notice the singular: “a spiritual house.” We are being built by Christ not into numerous individual houses but into a spiritual house, the Church, the body and bride of Christ.
Even more provocative than that, Peter says that we are likewise being built “to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” The priests were those who helped the people come before God in worship and sacrifice. When you trust in Christ, this is what you become for one another! It is a truly astounding thought!
You cannot serve one another as priests if you are biting at one another, devaluing one another, and slandering one another! In fact, if we will let the mind of Christ dwell within us, we will, in time, find it almost impossible to conflict in the normal ways! Thomas Merton passes on the following story from the desert fathers.
There were two elders living together in a cell, and they had never had so much as one quarrel with one another. One therefore said to the other: Come on, let us have at least one quarrel, like other men. The other said: I don’t know how to start a quarrel. The first said: I will take this brick and place it here between us. Then I will say: It is mine. After that you will say: It is mine. This is what leads to a dispute and a fight. So then they placed the brick between them, one said: It is mine, and the other replied to the first: I do believe that it is mine. The first one said again: It is not yours, it is mine. So the other answer: Well then, if it is yours, take it! Thus they did not manage after all to get into a quarrel.
What would it be like to reach this kind of place in our walks with Jesus that we simply forgot how to conflict? While all human gatherings drift toward conflict, the mind of Christ actualized in and through the people of Christ can break the cycle and begin to restore loving and nourishing relationships.
This is what it means to be a peacemaker. This is what it means to be Christ one to another!
Keep the circle small. Keep the cross central. See the Church as “your people.”
 Fujimura, Makoto (2016-05-01). Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering (Kindle Locations 2030-2051). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
 Thomas Merton, The Way of the Desert (New York, NY: New Directions), p.67.