Spirited Reflection: Building for peace by Pam Peters-Pries
On September 21, the world will celebrate the International Day of Peace, established in 1981 by the United Nations General Assembly. The theme for this year’s Day of Peace is “The Sustainable Development Goals: Building Blocks for Peace”.
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals engage all countries in an ambitious 17-point agenda to eliminate poverty and improve environmental sustainability by 2030. Its preamble states:
“We are resolved to free the human race from the tyranny of poverty and want and to heal and secure our planet. We are determined to take the bold and transformative steps which are urgently needed to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path.”
The work of building lasting peace with justice is massive, incremental, practical, and even tedious – as illustrated by the complexity and reach of the Sustainable Development Goals. Even as we approach a day devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace across the globe, peace and justice work can feel overwhelming, lonely, and even hopeless. Where shall we find the strength to continue?
The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is a rich source of inspiration for Christians seeking and working for justice and peace. We hear some phrases from this passage so frequently and casually that they may have become cliché, no longer holding comfort or meaning for us: Blessed are the peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). You are the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13). Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:43). When we focus on these familiar phrases in isolation, we forget that the Sermon on the Mount is not a collection of platitudes, but a powerful challenge to followers of Jesus to imagine a new ordering of the world. Jesus invites us not to simply accept the way things are, but to envision and to embody a world in which the rules which uphold inequality no longer apply, and where simple actions – such as turning the other cheek – become profound acts of resistance to the prevailing order and witness to the new.
And Jesus accompanies this vision of a transformed, just world with a vision and a promise of the just and compassionate God who will provide all that we need to meet the challenge of embodying this new world order. Again, these familiar phrases may have lost their comfort and meaning for us: But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:33). Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you (Matthew 7:7). We forget that these statements are not simple reminders of God’s generosity, but powerful statements about a God whose endless attention, compassion and generosity are dedicated entirely to providing this world what it needs to set things right – if only we are ready to accept this profound gift and challenge.
On September 21, as peoples and nations the world over engage in acts large and small dedicated to “strengthening the ideals of peace”, may the challenges and promises of the justice-bringing, peace-making Jesus become new and powerful for you. When the obstacles to justice are too overwhelming and the attainment of peace too distant, may you hold Jesus’ challenges and promises close to your heart to strengthen you for the massive, incremental, practical and even tedious work ahead.
Pam Peters-Pries is the Associate Program Director at Mennonite Central Committee Canada and Vice-chair of the KAIROS Board. She lives on a small farm near Blumenort, MB where she loves to knit, read, and bake. She also loves exploring the wonders of the Canadian Shield in nearby Whiteshell Provincial Park.