Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: Day Four, “Walking as Children of the Earth”

Jan 21st, 2013 | By | Category: Blog Posts

On Day 4 of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we continue our reflections on the daily themes and Scripture readings offered by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

Today’s readings share as a theme the work to be done on this earth, in this time, while we continue to await the redemption of all things. There is real work to be done. Unless we work with our hands, at our jobs, or for our families, things will fall apart. This is true also of the work we have to do for the Church and for the redemption of souls.

Reading about the Levitical law on the Jubilee Year is a good reminder (especially for those of us living non-agrarian lifestyles) that the real value of land is its harvest, and that work is necessary to achieve a harvest. (Leviticus 25: 8-17.) The nature of things, of course, makes clear that the land will not spontaneously yield its own harvest. Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. (2 Corinthians 9:6.) In our fallen existence, we must work the land before it bears fruit.


Creation Groans in Labor

In the epistle to the Romans, St. Paul tells us that creation itself is in need of redemption. So it seems we have more work to do than merely fighting sin or pursuing orthodoxy. Creation itself has been corrupted; creation itself is in need of redemption:

[T]he creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning with labor pains together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. (Romans 8:21-24.)

Acknowledging that the hard work of redemption is our daily obligation, we may ask again the “theme” question for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: “What does the Lord require of us?” Today’s readings make clear that the Lord requires us to work. From my experiences in life to date, I dare say that the Lord requires us to work hard — he does not call us to leisure.

In the Gospel reading from St. John, we read of the blind man given sight so that “the works of God might be made manifest in him.” Jesus said:

We must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. (John 9:3-5.)

If a man followed a philosophy that prioritized the pursuit of leisure, what would his field look like? In its natural state, recall, the field is corrupted by the fall. It yields no fruit to him who does not sow and does not tend. The leisure-man’s field would be barren. The leisure-man would be hungry.

The same holds true of our clear scriptural call to communion. (John 17.) Think of this ecumenical obligation as a farmer’s field. Like that field, our ecumenism is affected by the stains of sin; it is corrupted. Apart from God’s grace, it is in “bondage to decay.” But if we heed God’s call to communion, we will work this field of ecumenism. We will take up our plowshare. We will sow seed. But we must do so in earnest, for the night is coming when no more work can be accomplished.

And by God’s grace, all of us will reap and have a bountiful harvest. Have hope, dear brothers and sisters! We must not sin against hope by despairing that the field of ecumenism has become barren.

Let me finish by quoting Pope Benedict XVI from yesterday’s Angelus reflection:

One of the most serious sins that disfigures the face of the Church is its visible lack of unity, especially the historical divisions that have separated Christians and which have not yet been completely resolved.

Lord, help us to see that now is the time to work the field of ecumenism. By Your grace, may we take up this work in earnest, and take it up together. Amen.

BIBLICAL REFLECTIONS AND PRAYERS
 FOR THE ‘EIGHT DAYS’

Day 4 Walking as children of the earth
Readings
Leviticus 25: 8-17 The land is for the common good, not personal gain
Psalm 65: 5b-13 The fruitful outpouring of God’s grace on the earth
Romans 8: 18-25 The longing of all creation for redemption
John 9: 1-11 Jesus’ healing, mud, bodies and water

Commentary

If we are to walk in humility with God, we will need always to be aware of ourselves as part of creation, and recipients of God’s gifts. There is a growing recognition in today’s world that better understanding of our authentic place in creation must become a priority for us. Among Christians, especially, there is a growing awareness of the ways in which ecological concern is a part of “walking humbly with God”, the creator; for all we have is given by God in his creation, and so is not “ours” to do with as we wish. It is for this reason that from 1 September to 4 October Christians are called to observe the Time for Creation—a practice increasingly observed by many churches. In 1989 the Ecumenical Patriarch, Dimitrios I, proclaimed 1 September as a day of prayer for the environment. The Orthodox Church’s liturgical year starts on that day with a commemoration of God’s creation of the world. On 4 October, many churches from the Western traditions commemorate Francis of Assisi, the author of the “Canticle of Creation”. The beginning and closing of the Time for Creation are thus linked with the concern for creation in the Eastern and the Western traditions of Christianity, respectively.

The Christian story is one of redemption for all creation; it is creation’s own story. The belief that, in Jesus, God becomes a human person, in a particular place and time is a central belief around which all Christians gather. It is a shared belief in the Incarnation which carries with it a profound recognition of the importance of creation – of bodies, food, earth, water, and all that feeds our life as people on the planet. Jesus is fully part of this world. It may be slightly shocking to hear how Jesus heals using his spittle and the dust from the earth; but it is true to this real sense of the created world as integral to God’s bringing us to new life.

Across the world the earth is often worked by the poorest people, who frequently do not themselves share in the fruitfulness that results. At the same time it is these communities who have a particular care for the earth, as the practical wisdom of working the land is shown forth in their labours.

Care of the earth includes basic questions of how human beings are to live within creation, in ways which are more fully human for all. That the earth – its working and ownership – should so often be a source of economic inequalities, and degrading work practices is a cause for great concern and action for Christians together. The covenantal recognition of these dangers of exploitation with regard to the earth is spoken about in Leviticus’ instructions concerning the Year of Jubilee: the land and its fruits are not given to be an opportunity for “taking advantage of one another”, rather the working of the land is for the benefit of all. This is not just a “religious idea”; it is tied to very real economic and business practices concerning how the land is managed, bought and sold.

Prayer

God of life, we thank you for the earth, and for those who care for it and bring forth its fruits. May the Spirit, the giver of life, help us to recognise that we are part of creation’s web of relationships. May we learn to cherish the earth and listen to creation’s groaning. May we truly walk together in the steps of Christ, bringing healing to all that wounds this earth, and ensuring a just sharing of the things that it brings forth.

God of life, lead us to justice and peace. Amen.

Questions

  • Today’s readings invite Christians into a deep unity of action in common concern for the earth. Where do we practice the spirit of the year of Jubilee in our life as Christians together?
  • Where, in our Christian communities, are we complicit with things that degrade and exploit the earth? Where can we work more together in learning and teaching reverence for God’s creation?

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