Practical Peacemaking: Be a Mediator Like Jesus
by Rick Love
I read a book last week on mediation and laughed when the author (a lawyer who has mediated over 7000 cases) shared personally. She said that her 90 year old parents still mediate between her and her sisters! Wow, a trained lawyer and veteran mediator still needed the practical help of her parents to mediate conflict with her siblings. Mediation is a profoundly practical and important aspect of peacemaking.
Mediation refers to third-party-peacemaking. The ideal of Scripture is that the two parties in conflict work it out between themselves -- cooperative resolution. But often, people in conflict need help. So they turn to a trusted third party to aid them in resolving their dispute. The mediator helps them come to a cooperative resolution.
Scripture speaks of mediation in a number of places (1 Corinthians 6:1-8; Philippians 4:2-3; Philemon). But the most profound illustration of mediation is Jesus Himself. “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and human beings, Christ Jesus, himself human” (1 Timothy 2:5).
What does this statement about Jesus mean in terms of the practice of mediation? Here’s how I think it applies: In the same way Jesus was fully immersed in the identity, perspective, and experiences of both God and humanity as a mediator, so too the peacemaking mediator immerses himself or herself in the perspective of each side of the conflict. Whether a professional mediator doing formal mediation, or a non-professional working informally, good mediators build bridges. They imitate Jesus (whether they realize it or not) in that they seek to understand and represent both sides of those who are in conflict.
Most of us do mediation at an interpersonal level. Some of us, like Peace Catalyst International (PCI) do this primarily between communities: Christians and Muslims. Thus, in order to be faithful to Jesus the mediator, we at PCI work hard at loving and understanding each faith community and helping the one to understand and love the other.
We want to be like Jesus. So seeing this strong connection between mediation and Jesus the mediator motivates us to be even more engaged in peacemaking. In Peace Catalyst we like to talk about doing peacemaking in the way of Jesus. In other words, we seek to obey His teachings and imitate His example.
The term “peacemaker” ("blessed are the peacemakers" - Matthew 5:9) combines two Greek words: “peace” and “to make,” implying that peacemakers step into conflict to restore harmony. Thus, the very term peacemaker implies mediation. And 99.9% of mediation is informal – between friends, family, neighbors, school mates, and business associates. Mediation is about helping people resolve conflict.
You have probably been a mediator occasionally. Hard isn’t it? Mediation takes courage and comes at great cost. David W. Augsburger (Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling at Fuller Theological Seminary) wisely notes,
"Mediation is stepping between colliding forces, competing wills and clashing temperaments. Mediation is the ability to define and clarify, to separate and discern, to link and reconcile opposites. Meditation is the capacity to absorb tension, to suffer misunderstanding, to accept rejection, and to bear the pain of others’ estrangement."
Mediators help alienated people or communities restore broken relationships. To be effective, mediators need to be trusted. In formal mediation, a lot of attention is given to the importance of being “neutral.” In everyday mediation, we can’t always be neutral, or perceived as neutral. But as followers of Christ, we can walk in wisdom, and when we model wisdom, people will trust us. Then we will have more opportunities to mediate.
Jesus’ little brother James describes divine wisdom as follows: “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness (James 3:17-18)." James saw these character traits lived-out in Jesus and calls us to model them.
Let me point out a few things about divine wisdom as it relates to mediation. First, note that the list of traits describing wisdom begin and end with the words purity and sincerity (sincerity literally means without hypocrisy). Together the two terms speak of integrity. Second, wisdom reflects beauty of character: peace-loving, considerate, full of mercy and good fruit. Third, wisdom reflects judicious thought. It is “submissive,” which means that it is open to reason and willing to yield. It is also “impartial” in its evaluation of people and issues. It sticks to the facts and seeks objectivity. Fourth, wisdom sows in peace, which means the mediator stays calm and speaks without bludgeoning people.
Some of you may need a mediator. If so, seek a trusted, wise third party to help you resolve your dispute. Some of you may want to grow in mediation, and many of you will be involved one way or the other. Basic training in peacemaking helps a lot.
May God raise up more mediators. May they reflect more wisdom from above! Blessed are the mediators, for they are imitators of Jesus.