FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
The Easter message of new life in the risen Christ continues in today’s Gospel of the Vine and the Branches. Apart from Jesus the Vine, there can be no Spirit-life for his disciples. The letter to John reminds us to recognize Jesus as God’s Son and to keep his commandments. In Acts, the Spirit is at work as the recently converted Paul moves to present his message in Jerusalem regardless of the personal danger involved. Thus, the vine and branches constitute a living reality within the human soul and within a growing Church.
FIRST READING: Acts 9:26-31
This conversion story shows the marvelous transforming power of God’s grace. Paul, the former persecutor, becomes a proclaimer and disciple of Jesus. When he returns to introduce himself to the Apostles, they are naturally fearful and suspicious of him. But Barnabas, Paul’s ‘sponsor,’ encourages the Apostles to accept Paul. Paul immediately starts to preach about Jesus and his message. The Hellenists (Greek-speaking Jews) reject Paul and try to kill him.
SECOND READING: 1John 3:18-24
Three theological themes are combined in a very significant way: Christian love, confident belief, and faithful obedience. The first exhortation is on active love. It is not enough to proclaim love for God, but we must also love one another. And if in our efforts to love we fail and “our hearts condemn us,” we ought not to worry because God’s love and mercy “is greater than our hearts.” In prayer, believers should go to God with utter confidence knowing that he will always bless us with what is best for us. Finally, faithful obedience involves two things: belief in the name of God’s Son and love for one another.
GOSPEL: John 15:1-8
Last week, Jesus spoke of himself as the Good Shepherd. This week he refers to himself as the Vine which gives divine life to all who believe in him and live according to his Word. Non-fruit-bearing branches will be cut away. This could be a reference to the Jews who reject Jesus, or to people who do accept him but do not follow his ways. But even fruit-bearing believers will be pruned or purified by Jesus so that they can bear even more fruit. This daily pruning often involves dealing positively with our daily crosses and losses.
In the ‘vine and branch’ imagery, Jesus explains the wonderful intimacy that exists between him and his followers and the responsibility that goes with it. Believers who nurture their relationship with Jesus by lives of faith and love will bear much fruit. But then follows a severe warning: those who neglect their relationship with Christ will be cut away and thrown out. It is similar to what happens in close personal relationships: unless they are nurtured, they die.
Who has been a Barnabas in your life—in other words, who has been your primary inspiration and supporter in your efforts to become more Christ-like?