“Look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting.” John 4:35
Three words beginning with “f” can help us in our thoughts about Patrick and what is ministry might teach us about being followers of Christ in our own time, the words are food, four and fruit.
The disciples are concerned that Jesus should attend to his own needs, telling him in Saint John Chapter 4 Verse 31, “Rabbi, eat something. The answer that Jesus gives them is enigmatic, they are confused when Jesus says to them in Verse 32, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” They do not understand what it is that Jesus is saying to them; they miss the point that there are more important things in life than looking after their own needs, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” they ask in Verse 33. Jesus has to explain that there is a need for more than just the ordinary and the physical food in life; there is a need for purpose and meaning; there is a need to have a reason for the way daily life is lived; there is a need for work to serve God. In Verse 34, Jesus says, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.”
Patrick understood what Jesus was saying, that human comfort and security took second place to serving God. Having returned from slavery in Ireland, Patrick might have believed that he could serve God as well in Britain as he could in the land where he had suffered hardship. Patrick hears God calling him back to Ireland and realises, as Jesus taught, that he must do the will of God who is sending him to continue the work in Ireland. Doing God’s will became the purpose of Patrick’s life, it became what sustained him through the challenges and the trials of ministry in Ireland.
What is our “food?” Are we concerned with our own needs, or do we realise that there is more to life than just the ordinary and physical things? Do we realise that doing God’s will should be what sustains us?
Jesus teaches the disciples what his food is, it is spiritual food, and then he asks them about their attitude toward the spiritual harvest. In Verse 35, he says, “Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest?'” The disciples are warned against prevarication, they are warned against postponing the work God has given them to do. “Four months,” is the end of the season, it is a distant time, it is far enough away for them not to be worried about the harvest at the present time. Jesus will not allow the disciples the opportunity to avoid the work, he will not give them four months, he says to them, ” But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting.”
Patrick might have prevaricated, he might have thought that he would get a church well-established in a particular place before he moved elsewhere, but Patrick realises there is much work to be done immediately, not in four months or four years time. Patrick travels far and wide, doing as much work as possible in the time available to him.
Do we follow the example of Patrick? Or are we more like the disciples whom Jesus warns against deferring the work he has given them? Are we happy to do now the work God has given us, or do we think it can wait, like the harvest could wait until the end of the season? Jesus tells us to look around and to see all that we should be doing.
Food reminds us that we are here to do God’s will; four reminds us that we should not postpone doing that work; and the third “f” is fruit. There is spiritual food, a spiritual harvest, and there is spiritual fruit. Verse 36 says, “The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.” Jesus uses fruit as a symbol of what qualities his followers should show in their lives, they should be qualities that reflect the teachings of Jesus, they should be qualities that people would expect from citizens of the Kingdom of God. “You will know them by their fruits,” says Jesus in Saint Matthew Chapter 7 Verse 16.
Patrick dedicates his life to showing the qualities that Jesus sought in his followers. Saint Paul describes these qualities, these fruits, in Galatians Chapter 5 Verses 22-23,”the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,gentleness, and self-control.” Patrick had come to an Ireland that was dominated by warrior chieftains; an Ireland where violence, kidnapping and death were common, as Patrick himself experienced in his own lifetime. Patrick converts people by showing them the way of Jesus, a way completely different from any they had know. Patrick shows the fruits of the Spirit and his work produces great fruit for eternal life.
Do we do as Jesus would expect of us? Do we show the fruit of the Spirit in our own lives, as Patrick did? Does the way we live challenge other people and produce fruit for eternal life?
Food, four and fruit: three words that remind us of being called to God’s work, working in God’s fields, and bringing home God’s harvest.