God’s Message of Shalom


Mary Lou Redding


Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.
—Matthew 5:9


In the Hebrew scripture that Jesus knew and quoted, the word usually translated “peace” is shalom. This word means much more than not being at war. It can also be translated “salvation” or “wholeness.” This kind of peace is bringing salvation to—mending and making whole—the entire created order, in the sense that God brings healing from all that limits us. In Luke 4:18, Jesus claims this as his mission: “To bring good news to the poor ... to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” Peacemakers are all those who work to end conditions that constrict others’ lives. Jesus said that he came to give us “life ... to the full” (John 10:10, NIV)—“life ... more abundantly,” as the King James Version puts it. Anything that keeps people from the fullness of life that Jesus offered is antiwholeness, antishalom. Christ wants to free us from all that limits the life of God in us and around us. …

The world so badly needs to hear the message of wholeness, of shalom, of the peace God wants for all of us. The dehumanizing systems that oppress God’s children around the world are created by people like us. Injustice, violence, economic and sexual exploitation, slavery in all its forms, and all the small and comfortable evils that we see every day spring from our human failings. They grow from our lust for power over others and from our greed. Shalom does not envision escape from the world but engagement with the world in all its brokenness, so that “justice [can] roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24). Peacemakers are those who see that the world and its people are broken but also hold a dream, a vision, that God can and does reach out to heal our world. And God does it through the acts of those who live by the values of this new kingdom where God’s will is being done. …

In the Orthodox tradition, Mary the mother of Jesus is known as theotokos—literally, “God-bearer.” When we work for peace and reconciliation with God, we also are God-bearers; we bring God into the lives of those who may not have understood that God wants fullness of life for them.

Jesus used the plural here—peacemakers—implying that this is not a task for any one of us alone and that the world needs more than one kind of peacemaker. So we explore the different aspects of peacemaking and the different contexts in which each of us is called to act for peace. At home, at work, in the church, the community, the world—we are different, and our role in peacemaking varies in all these places. We use different skills.

Peacemaking is active. It is not enough to pray for peace or to try to live peaceably. We must also work for justice, investing ourselves in our communities for the good of all. Even though we are not permanent residents of this world, we have a role to play while we are here. God’s plan is not pie in the sky, on high, by and by when we die. We are meant to make a difference here and now.

The prophet Jeremiah wrote to God’s people in exile, giving them a plan for action while living in a culture that did not accept their values. He told them, “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters. ... Seek the welfare [shalom] of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare [shalom] you will find your welfare” [shalom] (Jer. 29:5-7). This is still good advice to us in our “exile,” living in a culture that does not operate by kingdom values. We are to “build houses”—to provide for immediate needs. We are to “plant”—to invest in efforts that will bear fruit in the future. And we are to pray and act for the welfare of our “city,” for our wholeness depends in part on its wholeness.

Where do you hear our needy world calling for someone to come and help? Where can you see a situation that needs changing? What do you believe God wants for the world?

Peacemakers are those who, seeing the world’s needs, also hold in their hearts a vision of the world made whole. When we act to make that vision a reality, we claim our identity as God’s sons and daughters.

Excerpted from The Power of a Focused Heart: Eight Life Lessons from the Beatitudes by Mary Lou Redding. Copyright © 2006 by the author. Used with permission from Upper Room Books.