This is a photograph of American shoppers. It appeared in today’s edition of the British Daily Mail newspaper under the headline: “Stampede of the sales ‘animals’: Black Friday frenzy turns violent as shoppers fight over bargains.” This is an awful picture of Americans during the season of Thanksgiving and good will to all. As Christians, called to be peacemakers, what are we doing or should be doing to set a good example during these troubled times?
Seeing this picture and the questions it begs brought a story to mind. In the 5th century AD, a monk named Telemachus wanted to live his life in total pursuit of God. He moved to a secluded place in the desert where he spent his days fasting, praying and meditating. One day, as he prayed, he realized that his life was based on a selfish, not selfless, love of God. The revelation was like a bolt of lightening. He realized that if he were to serve God, he must first serve humanity. So he immediately abandoned his solitary lifestyle and returned to the city of Rome where sin was ripe and human need desperate.
He arrived in Rome as the city was buzzing with pride from a great victory over the Goths. Since Rome was a Christian city, victory brought a great revival to the churches as people came in droves to celebrate and give thanks to God. But one pagan practice lingered – the gladiator games. While Christians were no longer thrown to the lions, prisoners of war were cast into the arena to fight and kill each other as the so-called Christian spectators roared with blood lust which had been restrained over time due to no wins in recent battles until then.
Telemachus was not aware of this practice, so when he followed the noise and arrived at the arena, he was shocked at what he saw. Some 80,000 people were gathered to celebrate the triumph of their army. The fight between the prisoners began. Telemachus stood aghast as he watched men for whom Christ had died fighting to kill each other for the amusement of the supposedly Christian populace. Without weighing the cost of his actions, Telemachus jumped into the arena, stood between the two gladiators, imploring them to drop their weapons and not kill each other. After some time of pleading they did and walked away unharmed. But the crowd was furious at being robbed of their entertainment and in a fit of rage, stoned Telemachus to death.
So violent was the uproar, it spilled into the streets and neighborhoods causing the loss of life and costly destruction of property. The violence lasted several days resulting in the cancellation of the rest of the contests. Three days later, Honorus, the Roman Emperor, declared Telemachus a martyr and put a permanent end to the gladiators’ contest. Telemachus, an ancient peacemaker, served the human family greater by his death than anything he had done in his life. His sacrifice said more about Christ than his entire solitary life of fasting and praying. Is this Black Friday violence the sacrificial sword on which contemporary Christians should fall during this season between Thanksgiving and a Happy Christmas?
Every century, every generation, has its own stories of people who made a difference by sacrificing life and limb to be a peacemaker. They distinguish themselves as such because they don’t want just the peace that passes understanding, but desperately desire the understanding that brings peace and were willing to die for it. They epitomize the portrait of a peacemaker presented by Jesus in His seventh Beatitude: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). This, as in the other seven Beatitudes, begins with the Greek word makario, translated as “blessed” in most versions, but really means “happy.” The particular kind of happiness is not merely a subjective state created by good fortune, prosperity, pleasure and other satisfying experiences. The original meaning includes an objective understanding that is not temporary bliss offered by Jesus to His new community, but a permanent state of reconciliation with God and people. For in Christ believers are not happy because of what happens to them, but because of what they are whether they feel good or not!
There are songs and other sentiments that regularly remind us that what the world needs now is love, sweet love. Thank God the church is full of love – Christ’s love if not our own. But we lack genuine peace and authentic peacemakers such as:
- People who strive to prevent contention and conflict, strife and war based on Christian principles.
- Believers who are not only witnesses of the Gospel of grace, but their influence is exceptional in reconciling opposing parties, averting lawsuits and suspending hostilities among families, neighbors and church members.
No one is more like God than a peacemaker. Even though sometimes they have to work for peace through confrontation, their aim and goal is to create a harmony that is a motivating force in the Christian life. In fact, they are called children of God because they not only resemble Him, they manifest His spirit and like Him, will not fish in the troubled waters of quarrels and fights, but prefer serenity and tranquility. Theirs is a pure heart, since conflict comes out of a distorted spirit that feeds on intrigue and thrives on selfishness. Therefore, before we become disturbed or too critical about the Black Friday fighters, let us ask ourselves, “Are we, today’s believers in Christ, peacemakers?”