Fifth Sunday of Easter: 02 May 2021
|(Christ the living vine: courtesy - creative commons)|
This week has been, once again, a very tough week for us. We cannot remain aloof from what is happening to our brothers and sisters, family members, friends, collaborators and colleagues at the surge of Corona infection. It is almost twenty-four hours of the day, our mind is preoccupied with the devastations Corona pandemic causing. The familiar names and faces are vanishing away from our sight. As we raise our prayers and petitions to God our Good Shepherd, we have the beautiful words from St John's Gospel: “A branch cannot bear fruit by itself; it can do so only if it remains in the vine” (Jn 15:4). We are nothing if we are not with the Lord.
1. Interconnectivity leads to Salvation
We live in a world of interconnectivity. The Gospel gives us an image of being linked to the source of our life as Christians, about being connected almost organically with Jesus. "I am the vine and you are the branches... Remain in me as I remain in you" (Jn 15:5). This passage is part of the Farewell Discourse that Jesus gives at the Last Supper. As the separations loom on the horizon, the friendship that has grown up these years together on the back roads and trails of Judea, and in the villages of Galilee is about to be shaken, Jesus will no longer be physically tangible, visibly present. St John the Evangelist depicts Jesus as a very affectionate and sensitive person. His humanity becomes very visible in the way he deals with his disciples so lovingly, and so delicately, and so poignantly, as St John paints this humanity of Jesus.
Just a few verses after today's passage Jesus says: "I no longer call you servants or slaves, but I have called you friends" (Jn 15:15). Jesus expresses his desire that the companionship, the friendship which is the mark of being a disciple in John, doesn't come to an end but will continue indefinitely. "Remain in me as I remain in you" (Jn 15:5). It is almost as if Jesus doesn't want to let go of those who have become his own, doesn't want to let go of us.
2. We are companions on a mission of our Lord
In other passages in John, Jesus says that no one can wrest from him what God has given him, that no one can clutch us out of his embrace. That was meant to reassure us. Here he seems to want to reassure himself that we will stay, that we will abide in his company, that we will continue to be companions.
Jesus needs us, God needs us to carry on a healing, reconciling movement of love to draw people and nations, friends and enemies together in an embrace of forgiveness and grace. The fruit of his life and of his Gospel depends on his companions, on ourselves, carrying on a ministry of love whose heart is buried in the heart of God.
The harvest of the incarnation is God's Word continuing to find flesh and blood, breath and life in each one of us, and in the Church. If he washed the feet of his disciples, then we are to wash one another's feet. It is this ministry of service that blossomed in the lives of so many men and women, doctors and nurses who serve in our hospitals and other places risking their lives during this pandemic who show their love "not only in word and speech," as John's Epistle admonishes us, "but in deed and truth" (1 Jn 13:18).
3. What a friend we have in Jesus
Of course, the Gospel symbolism of the vine provides a tender, intimate image of life flowing back and forth between Christ and ourselves, between Jesus and the Church, almost like nourishment and oxygen flowing through the umbilical cord from a mother to the child in her womb and back again, allowing the child to grow and develop but only by sharing the life of its mother.
John doesn't imagine the relationship between Jesus and us as that of parent to child, but of companionship, of friendship. That's why Joseph Scriven's famous spiritual, "What a friend we have in Jesus," is very much on target. But it is a friendship of profound intimacy, of sharing at the deepest level of our being. Paul once captured it in his letter to the Galatians: "I live," he wrote, "no, rather, it is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal2:20). Further, Paul writes to the Romans, "If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord" (Rom 14:8). For John, the life that courses through us is indistinguishable from that which courses through Christ, just as the life of the vine is indistinguishable from that of its branches, and that life is God's own. Perhaps we could ask this question: In what way is this a good image to describe how Jesus wants us to grow in him? In fact, Paul and John nudge us in the direction of a mystical interpretation of our discipleship.
4. Living our life faithfully in our Lord
One of the leading Catholic thinkers of the twentieth century once said that "the Christian of the future will be a mystic, or there won't be any Christians at all." It was Karl Rahner and he meant that we won't be able to rely on external, social support for our Christian faith, sometimes even from the institutional Church. We will remain united to Christ only if we are rooted in a profound inner awareness of the intimate, personal presence of God in our lives. This, he said, is a "mysticism of the everyday." At the Eucharist, we are nourished in this by our own "mothering bread," the bread of life when we share it around the table.
The theologian Henry Nouwen in his book "You are the Beloved" writes that in spite of our loneliness, isolation and rootlessness, "the truth even though I cannot feel it right now, is that I am the chosen child of God, precious in God's eyes, called the Beloved from all eternity, and held safe in an everlasting belief." Perhaps during these difficult times in our country, we must cry out to God for everything. Jesus cautions us, however, that if we’re bearing fruit, we can expect that God will “prune” us—as a gardener trims and cuts back a plant so that it will grow stronger and bear even more fruit. He is teaching us today how to look at our sufferings and trials with the eyes of faith. We need to see our struggles as pruning, by which we are being disciplined and trained so that we can grow in holiness and bear fruits of righteousness (Hebrews 12:4–11).
We need to always remain rooted in Him, as today’s Epistle tells us. We remain in Him by keeping His commandment of love, by pondering His words, letting them dwell richly in us (Colossians 3:16), and by always seeking to do what pleases Him. In everything we must be guided by humility, remembering that apart from Him we can do nothing.Questions for reflections:
1. How do I interact with Christ as my companion in navigating this world?
2. How do I rest or remain in God when I am celebrating, navigating or hurting?
3. How might I be called to bear fruit in the world where there is hurt, evil, distrust and division?
4. Am I resisting some pruning that God is trying to do with me?
5. Where might I need to do some pruning in order to strengthen my relationship with Christ?
Beautiful and glorious Lord, Fill me with the comfort and hope of knowing that I am your child, precious in your eyes. Lord, give me each day the wisdom to see which things are important, and which things are not. Show me how best to use the time and talents you have given me. Help me to use all my opportunities wisely, that I may share, through service to others, the good gifts I have received from you. We make this prayer through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
- Olvin Veigas, SJ
1 May 2021
PS: I have written a blogpost on Kahaya/Concoction, a remedy that helps to keep our throat clean and disinfected during this corona pandemic, which I have been doing since August 2020. Please read it on this link