On Wendell Berry’s “Blessed are the Peacemakers”

I just wrapped up Blessed are the Peacemakers by Wendell Berry. It offers an interesting perspective on its namesake Bible verse, Matthew 5:9. When we’re “blessed” as peacemakers, are we granted material blessings or blessed with good health? Berry argues no. Material wealth being our reward makes little sense, as we’re told to be happy with little and give away to those in need. Nor is good health our blessing; Berry argues that being alive is a blessing in its own right. Berry writes on page 61:

If Jesus meant only that we should have more possessions or even more “life expectancy,” then John 10:10 is no more remarkable than an advertisement for any commodity whatever. Abundance, in this verse, cannot refer to an abundance of material possessions, for life does not require a material abundance; it requires only a material sufficiency. That sufficiency granted, life itself, which is a membership in the living world, is already an abundance.

The advertisement analogy really drives the message home, doesn’t it? “Call on Jesus for salvation now, and YOU can receive all this today for the low-low price of just saying a simple prayer! Don’t delay, Hell awaits!” Berry further elaborates on page 63:

We don’t need much imagination to imagine that to be free of hatred, of enmity, of the endless and hopeless effort to oppose violence with violence, would be to have life more abundantly. To be free of indifference would be to have life more abundantly.

Consider Matthew 11:28-29: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” While following Christ and truly living as a Christian certainly pose difficulties in this world, the comfort and inner calm from doing so far outweigh the detriment. From page 66:

His offer of more abundant life, then, is not an invitation to declare ourselves as certified “Christians,” but rather to become conscious, consenting, and responsible participants in the one great life, a fulfillment hardly institutional at all.

To further add to Berry’s point, let us consider John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. ” Christ specifically tells us that the peace we are given is not the peace of the world. That causes one to ask then, what is the peace of this world? To answer that, look at what most would say their biggest concerns are: Financial stability. Good health. Comfortable room and board. Any person, Saint or sinner, would be at peace if those basic needs were met. These, I would therefore argue, are not the things Christ promises us since anyone in this world can have them. Conversely, what of those who do follow Christ, yet live in utter poverty, suffer terminal illness, or are homeless? Are they not good enough Christians to be blessed with better circumstances?

Instead, I would concur with Berry’s assessment that God’s peace and blessings are moments of calm inner comfort. The contentment of living a worry-free life. The ability to exist in a world free of war and strife. The knowledge that, when we all love each other in the same way that God loves us individually, we have no need to fear our neighbor or lock our doors. The knowledge that our eternal home is secure, and that any trial or tribulation we face in this world is temporary compared to the eternity which awaits us in our heavenly home is a greater blessing than any material object ever could hope to be. That is the true blessing promised to us by our Lord.

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