Sunday Scripture reading, Oct. 4, 2020: Think of what is above
Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
1) Is 5:1-7
Psalm 80:9, 12-16, 19-20
2) Phil 4:6-9
Gospel: Mt 21:33-43
"Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ." When St. John Paul II spoke these words in October 1978 during his first homily as pope, there was much to fear in the world. The possibility of nuclear war hung over nations as a menacing threat. People living under dehumanizing totalitarian regimes around the world were being denied basic human rights of freedom of religion and speech.
The lands of the Middle East continued to be plagued by violence and turmoil. And developing countries faced destructive famines that claimed the lives of countless men, women and children. Those fearful times were not unlike the present day as the world continues to struggle with the social, economic and cultural consequences of a pandemic, violence and natural disasters.
"Brothers and sisters: Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God." These words from the fourth chapter of St. Paul's Letter to the Philippians might seem disconnected from the many realities that cause and spread so much fear in the world. But they were written precisely as Paul was enduring many harsh trials and personal difficulties, including imprisonment for the sake of the Gospel.
Yet Paul encourages the Philippians, and us, to replace anxiety and fear with trusting prayer and a heart of thanksgiving. He shows the Philippians, and every Christian, how faith can shape our response to fearful events and the inevitable challenges and difficulties of daily life.
Paul assures them that even in the midst of stress and fearful circumstances the peace of God that passes all understanding will guard hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
And then Paul urges the Philippians to fix their eyes and minds on the things that are above, that is, whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious and excellent. Is this an exercise in turning away from reality? Or is this the path of faith and Christian discipleship?
By growing in the virtue of fixing mind and heart on the things of God a disciple of Jesus moves away from the vice of people and things that lead away from God's love and truth. Then, says Paul, the "God of peace will be with you."
In the Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples the parable of the vineyard owner to invite them into the same truth: Trust replaces fear even in those who are rejected to the point of death. For "the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord this has been done and it is wonderful in our eyes."
The turmoil, violence and superficial deceptions of the world leads us too easily on the path of fear, and anxiety and even despair. Today God's word invites us to trust, faith, peace of mind and the good fruit that Jesus promises. For the courage to replace fear with trust and move from a place of anxiety to confident faith in the invitation to friendship with Jesus we pray, "speak to me, Lord."
What fears do I need to entrust to God today?
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Sullivan is a professor at The Catholic University of America.