Peace which is God
Twenty-Seventh Sunday of the Year. Fr John Farrell ponders the fruitfulness which lies in Christ.
In our readings today there is a contrast between the extravagant violence of the gospel parable
‘they seized the servants, thrashed one, killed another, stoned a third.’
and the calm assurance of St Paul in the reading from Philippians:
‘there is no need to worry.’
Yet Paul knew from his own bitter personal experience the violence of the powerful and the misuse of authority which runs through both the Isaiah reading and the the gospel parable.
‘[The Lord of the vineyard] expected justice, but found bloodshed, integrity, but only a cry of distress.’
He knew also the anxiety, depression and collapse of self-worth which comes in times of crisis:
‘We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted but not forsaken.’
So Paul is not talking about imaginary troubles or minor upsets but the reality of human evil and its consequences. That is why he finishes that passage (cf. 2 Corinthians4.7-10) with reference to the murder of Jesus.
‘Struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be visible in our bodies.’
It is the death of Jesus which is referred to in the parable of the Son and heir and in the quotation from scripture about the stone that the builders rejected.
It is the same Jesus who, at his last supper, takes up these ancestral images of the bad vine and the bad vineyard and says ‘I am the Good Vine’. And he goes on to add that we are his fruitful or unfruitful branches in as much as we remain in Him. Just as here at the end of the parable he talks of a fruit-bearing people of God.
Paul’s teaching about not worrying and about the need for prayerfulness is itself a fruit of the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. ‘Do not worry about tomorrow,’ Jesus said. Not because there is nothing to worry about because he adds, ‘Today’s troubles are enough for today. Tomorrow will bring troubles of its own.’
Yet Jesus is constantly telling his disciples ‘Do not be afraid’ as if the opposite of faith is not unbelief but fear. We are not to be afraid because our heavenly Father is greater than even these greatest troubles.
It is in bearing this fruitful teaching that Paul tells us today of that Peace which is God’s own Trinitarian life. A Peace in which we live and move and having our being, in our life in the crucified and risen Jesus. God’s own Peace, which is beyond all understanding, stands guard around us, he tells us. This Peace which is God stands guard around us.
So how are we ourselves to remain large hearted and fruitful in our anxiety creating days and nights? Paul gives us three guides to remind us of our Guard: Praying, Pondering and Doing.
Prayerfulness is our on-going conversation with our Heavenly Father in which we honestly express our needs and our thanks. ‘If there is anything you need pray for it.’
In holy pondering we ponder the mystery of human life as it is but not as tinged with bitterness or hostility but as coloured by what is truthful, what is admirable, what calls forth our love, what is responsible and shows a singleness of heart.
‘Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.’
But it is in doing the faith in love we find out who we are and what we are to be. Paul tells us to keep on doing the faith in love, in the Christian pattern of our life in Christ. ‘My brothers and sisters, never grow tired of doing what is right’. ‘And the God of Peace will be with you’.
Prayerfulness, pondering that raises us up, and the lived-out Christian life. This is the fruitfulness of Christ and the fruitfulness of a people whose power and strength and comfort flows only through Him.