Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God (Matthew 5:9).
How does Jesus heal?
Like any good doctor, he starts with a diagnosis. Like any great doctor, he grounds his diagnosis in two principles: listening to the patient, and a theory of disease. His theory of disease assumes that every ailment stems from alienation from God, each other, and ourselves.
“He is our peace,” Paul said, because Jesus calls us and our enemies to a common table. For Jesus, ”…has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us” (Ephesians 2:14). He works tirelessly to the point of death mending divisions to make all factions one under God’s peaceful reign.
We give him a lot of work to do.
Christians gather to worship in his name, but we do so in the most segregated hour of the week. Divisions punctuate our history.
Every group, including the church, needs an identity. That entails distinguishing ourselves from outsiders. But here’s the rub: The more energy a group invests in excluding another group to maintain purity, the more a group turns on itself.
For example, early Mennonites turned from the watered-down, easily manipulated faith of privileged Christians. So they tried to establish a more holy community. That entailed defining and enforcing criteria for true believers by excluding those who did not measure up.
Yet, after they excluded the lukewarm, they turned on each other. Naturally, disagreements arose, and they excluded those who disagreed. They splintered and came to resemble the Christians from whom they sought to distinguish themselves.
I admire Mennonites and don’t mean to pick on them. Their story moves me because of the intentional discipleship for which they suffered much persecution from other Christians. But their story of exclusion turning inward plays out in the history of every Christian group and secular groups too. For example, it plays out in both of our major political parties today, quite dramatically at the moment in the Republican Party.
The Doctor’s remedy:
Love your enemies. Welcome home the prodigals. Reach out to the madman across the water, the soldier occupying your city, and the woman scorned. Your kindness to them will make you kinder to yourself.
Notoriously, the church fails and repeats the pattern of exclusion and infighting. However, Doctor Jesus makes strength perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Saints emerge from the broken Body of Christ and lead us in mending divisions. Some of them are conspicuous, like Francis of Assisi, Sojourner Truth, and Dorothy Day. Many more do their work quietly and virtually incognito.
Doctor Jesus keeps working on us and through us. Let us ask his forgiveness for our noncompliance with the remedy. Let us loosen our grips on identity agendas. For as we make peace with one another and ourselves, being called children of God will prove identity enough.