June 2011 Bible reflection from the Taize community

From www.taize.fr/en

Bible text with commentary

 These Bible meditations are meant as a way of seeking God in silence and prayer in the midst of our daily life. During the course of a day, take a moment to read the Bible passage with the short commentary and to reflect on the questions which follow. Afterwards, a small group of 3 to 10 people can meet to share what they have discovered and perhaps for a time of prayer.

Philippians 4:4-7: Unfailing Joy

 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your epieikēs (gentlesness, kindness) be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)

It may seem paradoxical that the letter of Saint Paul that speaks most about joy was written in prison, at a moment when the apostle does not even know whether he will be freed or whether he will undergo martyrdom. But precisely in this difficult and complicated situation he discovers the secret of Christian joy and shares it with us.

Humanly speaking, joy or happiness seems to be above all a question of favorable circumstances. I am happy when I am surrounded by friends, when I have a desirable future before me, when I have a rewarding job, and so on. But in that case, it would scarcely be possible to rejoice “always,” because life leads us through dark valleys just as often as up to exhilarating mountaintops.

Paul has found, in fact, a source of happiness that will never fail. It consists in a communion with the risen Christ, who has already passed through the lowest point of the human condition (3:10). Rooted in this Life, the apostle experiences a joy that nothing can impair. Whether he lives or dies, whether others shower him with affection or compete with him as rivals (1:15-20), all that is the same to him when seen from the standpoint of his relationship with Christ, which surpasses everything (3:8). He has learned to be satisfied with everything, to turn everything to good account (4:11-13).

This equanimity whatever happens, this unflappable serenity and smiling good humor because of the nearness of Christ is, for Paul, the clearest sign of the life of faith. This attitude is summed up in the word epieikēs, which receives such a rich and profound content here that all our translations approach it without ever managing to capture it. It is, in fact, the key to the epistle, the secret of Christian joy.

Naturally, like everybody else Paul has worries. But instead of letting them poison his existence, he places them through prayer in Christ’s movement from death to life, where thanksgiving always takes the first place. And the text concludes by speaking of God’s shalom, a peace and fullness beyond words that enables believers to go through everything and to remain in a constantly reawakened joy.

Questions for individual reflection or group discussion:

  •  Have I/we ever experienced unexpected joy and peace in moments of trial?
  •  What helps me/us to deepen my/our union with the living Christ?
  •  What role does the prayer of petition and of thanksgiving play in my/our life?

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