“A Retreat on Peace and Nonviolence, Pax Christi Pittsburgh, PA,”
Mt. 21:33-34. “The reign of God will be given to a people that will produce its fruit.”
The parable which Jesus tells today sums up the story of God’s efforts to save us from our violent selves, to disarm us, and to lead us into the fullness of life and nonviolence here and now on earth.
A landowner sends servants out to his vineyard to collect his produce. But one by one, they are beaten and killed. Finally, he sends his son, whom they seize, throw out of the vineyard and kill. In a nutshell, Jesus explains what God has done in history, sending us great prophets, peacemakers and saints who invited us to serve God’s reign of peace. One by one, we rejected and killed them all, until Jesus himself comes to the rescue. And Jesus, as we know, we totally rejected, betrayed, denied, abandoned, brutally tortured and horribly executed.
Our parable also sums up our own modern history of peacemaking saints and martyrs, from Gandhi and King to Dorothy Day and Ita Ford, from Franz Jagerstatter and Edith Stein to Oscar Romero and Jean Donovan. During the last century, we have heard from a stunning array of peacemakers, all of whom the world rejected, many of whom were killed.
Finally, the parable sums up our story too. Each one of us is sent to serve God’s reign of peace and justice, to carry on Jesus’ work of disarmament and healing, to witness to the wisdom of nonviolence and the new life of resurrection. Whether we speak out against Bush’s war on Iraq, U.S. military aid to Israel and the brutal occupation of the Palestinians, U.S. militarism in Colombia, U.S. terrorist training classes in Fort Benning, Georgia, or our continued immoral maintenance of nearly 30,000 nuclear weapons, we can expect to be rejected, dismissed, ridiculed, laughed at, mocked, denounced, or worse, harassed by the authorities, arrested for crossing the line or even imprisoned. This is what has happened to all the great peacemakers before us, so why should we expect anything different. Nonetheless, this is the task before, the journey ahead of us, the work at hand. We are called to carry on the prophetic tradition of peacemaking, to announce God’s reign of peace and nonviolence, and therefore to denounce America’s war on Iraq, its global nuclear terrorism, and all the injustice and poverty that breeds from our systemic violence.
Let me just add how helpful this last verse is, “that the reign of God will be given to a people that will produce its fruit.” (Mt. 21:43) Notice that the Gospel does not call us to be successful, effective or to achieve a lot of results. It does not speak about great numbers or even relevance. It talks rather of producing good fruit for the God of peace, a much more nonviolent, much more subtle, much more human, much more gentle image. We North Americans are socialized to get results and be successful, and this is the great trap of our peace movement, but this is not the spirit of the Gospel. Instead, we’re summoned simply to be faithful to the way of nonviolence, to seek God’s reign of justice for the poor, to heal the broken, liberate the oppressed, forgive one another and love our enemies. We are commanded simply to break the silence of the culture of war and speak the truth of peace. If we do these things, quietly, lovingly, with compassion, and keep on doing them, and stay faithful to the journey one step at a time, our lives will bear good fruit, and the Great Landowner will be pleased and bless us abundantly.