The Fifth Sunday of Easter ~ April 29, 2018
Jesus is so cool in the images he uses to communicate.
In the gospel passage today (John 15:1-8), Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” (You can read the entire passage below.)
Our Scripture scholar-friend William Barclay tells us that Jesus often uses images that are familiar to the people of his day that are part of their religious heritage. Time and time again, Israel is pictured as the vine or the vineyard of God. “The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel” Isaiah 5:1-7). “Yet I planted you a choice vine,” says Jeremiah to Israel (Jeremiah 2:21). Ezekiel, in turn, likens Israel to a vine in Chapter 15 and in 19:10. “Israel is a luxuriant vine: said Hosea in 10:1. “Thou didst bring a vine out of Egypt,” they sang in Psalm 80 as they remembered their deliverance from Egypt.
One of the glories of the temple was the great golden vine in front of the Holy Place. It was considered a great honor if you were rich enough to give gold to mould a new bunch of grapes or even a single grape to that vine.
Then Barclay gives us a bit of interesting exegesis. Jesus calls himself the true vine. The point of that word alethinos, true, real, genuine is this, he says: “It is a curious fact that the symbol of the vine is never used in the Old Testament apart from the idea of degeneration. The point of Isaiah’s picture is that vineyard has run wild. Jeremiah complains that the nation has turned into ‘degenerate and become a wild vine.’ It is as if Jesus said: ‘You think that because you belong to the nation of Israel that you are a branch of the true vine of God. But the nation it is; a degenerate vine, as the prophets saw. It is I that am the true vine.” (Barclay / The Gospel of John, Volume 2, p. 173)
Now here are my own thoughts on today’s gospel.
Take a look at the image above. Every part of the vine, every grape, receives its life by being connected to the source of its life.
So, too, with us. I have some readers who are not professed Christians. But if you think about it, the message is the same: If we stay connected to the Source of life, whatever that is for you, then our lives will flourish and bear fruit.
But some of us are like withered branches. We have cut ourselves off from the source of life and we do not bring fruitfulness into our lives.
The following commentary I excerpted from the Magnificat liturgical magazine . . . .
He [Jesus’ Father] takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit,
and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. (15:2)
In pruning, the vines were cut back so severely that they gave the appearance of lifeless stalks. When have you felt like that in your life? Did God ever generate new life from what seemed lifeless?
St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that if we are bent on “diverse and trifling things,” our power is weakened and rendered less effective in doing good. And thus, God, to make us productive to do good often sends us trials and temptations, which if we overcome, we become stronger in doing good.
You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. (15:3)
Think of how you were changed and made better by a word someone spoke to you: a word of forgiveness, of correction, of insight, of encouragement, of love
Here’s Aquinas again: “The Word of God by its power moves our hearts, weighed down by earthly things, and sets them on fire.
Another medieval Scholar, Cornelius a Lapide, says: “Christ pruned the Apostles of their ignorance, a certain vain confidence, an over-reliance on sensible (physical) presence of Christ, and from faint-heartedness, which made them almost despair of their own salvation now that Christ was departing.”
Remain in me, as I remain in you.
Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own
unless it remains on the vine,
so neither can you unless you remain in me. (15:4)
Of all the things our Lord could ask the night before he dies, he commands only this, “Remain in me”—the simplest thing of all.
~ Magnificat liturgical magazine / April 2018 ~ pp. 411-2
Take a few moments to consider the fruitfulness of your relationships. Are the people in your life growing because they know you and are in your life? Or are they withering up?
Stay connected. Stay connected with your family, your friends, the people you love and the people who love and care about you.
We want to be connected to the Internet, on Facebook and Twitter, Instagram and other social media. But those connections are most often superficial.
What about connections of the heart? The ones that really matter.
What about your connection with the earth and the environment and with the creatures who share this world with you? Or does the world revolve only around you?
What about your connection with God and his desire that the whole church, indeed the whole world be connected in love.
Now here’s my prayer . . . .
Jesus, you use simple images to help us understand
what life for us can be like when we stay connected to You.
Wonderful life-surging energy flows through You as the Vine.
Let that same life-surging energy which is Your Holy Spirit
surge through us as well
and renew the face of the earth!
To You be glory now and forever!
CHRIST IS RISEN!
Jesus said to His disciples: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does He prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Remain in Me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in Me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without Me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in Me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned. If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become My disciples.” (John 15:1-8)
And now, before you go, here’s a song for your reflection on your relationship with Jesus. Click here.
And here are all of today’s Mass readings. Click here.
William Barclay / The Daily Study Bible Series / the Gospel of John – Volume 2 Revised Edition / Westminster Press Philadelphia 1975 p. 173.
The Third Sunday of Easter ~ April 15, 2018
Here we read of St. Luke’s account of how Jesus came to his own when they were gathered in the upper room. Our scripture scholar-friend William Barclay notes that that several sings are stressed in this passage. . . . .
First, it stresses the reality of the resurrection. The risen Lord was no phantom or hallucination. The Jesus who died was in truth the Christ who rose again. Jesus asked his friends if they had anything to eat. They had some baked fish, and he ate it.
Second, it stresses the necessity of the cross. It was the cross that all the Scriptures looked forward. The cross wasn’t forced on God. It was part of the plan of God in which we see his eternal love.
Third, it stresses the urgency of the task. The Church wasn’t to live forever in the upper room. It was sent out into the world. After the upper room came the worldwide mission of the Church.
And lastly, it stresses the secret power. They had to wait. There are occasions when the Christian may seem to be wasting time, waiting in wise passivity. Action without preparation must often fail. There’s a time to wait on God and a time to work for God.
The quiet times in which we wait on God are never wasted, for it is in these times when we lay aside life’s tasks that we are strengthened for the very tasks we lay aside.
Or to put it in the words of an ~ um~ “great” theologian:
Roses are reddish,
Violets are bluish.
If there was no Easter,
We’d all be Jewish!
This is not just a cute little rhyme. If Jesus had not been risen from the dead, we wouldn’t be here. Because our religion would be based on a huge deception that could not have been sustained for two thousand years.
I am convinced that Jesus is risen from the dead and that he lives and reigns right now in the center of the universes. And as I will show, Easter reveals itself in little things.
The resurrection reveals the existence of the spiritual world that exists alongside this physical world of space and time. The resurrection reveals the afterlife. The resurrection is the “engine” that powers the spiritual system of prayer that allows us to be dynamically connected to Jesus, his Father in heaven, and all of the universe.
The beauty of the resurrection is that WE are destined to rise with Jesus – and not only after our life, but right here, right now.
We share in Jesus’ resurrection.
St. Gregory the Great in the Sixth Century said,
The body that rose again on the third day is ours.
The body that ascended above all the heights of heaven to the right hand of the Father is ours. If then we walk in his commandments, and are not ashamed to acknowledge the price he paid for our salvation in a lowly body, we too share in his glory.
We talk about sharing in Jesus’ paschal mystery – Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. But mostly, we think about being united to Jesus in his suffering, in the suffering of the world.
Today – this whole Easter season – I’d like us to look for signs of resurrection, of Risen Life in the midst of our lives.
St. Paul uses a little thing to describe Easter. In the second reading for Easter Sunday, he talks about yeast. He says, “Do you not know that a little yeast leavens all the dough? Clear out the old yeast, so that you may become a fresh batch of dough.”
Who would ever think that such an unassuming thing as yeast could be a sign of the resurrection?
Who would ever think that little unassuming Easter eggs or butterflies could be signs of the resurrection?
And so, I invite us to look each day of the Easter season for little things. Like Easter eggs and butterflies. These are little things. Nothing terribly exciting and easily overlooked. But they are significant signs of new life.
If you placed brightly colored eggs in the Easter baskets of your young friends we do that to remind us of new life. And butterflies remind us of transformation from one plane of existence to another. A little caterpillar chomping on the leaves of your neighbor’s garden goes into a little cocoon and comes out a bright and beautiful butterfly!
In the resurrection, we are transformed from life in the body to life in the spirit and one day will no longer be limited by space and time. We will be transformed from our planetside existence to an off-planet existence on the other side of space and time.
Using the metaphor of the caterpillar-transformed-into- a-butterfly, our life after death will be radically different from life on the planet. But we will have the same core, the same soul, the same spirit. You’ll be the same YOU. Just as it is hard to conceive of the difference between a caterpillar and a butterfly, so it is difficult to conceive of the change that takes place through resurrection.
It becomes a matter of faith for us until we experience resurrection ourselves.
For some of us, that will be in this life through certain spiritual experiences; for others, not until the next.
But we have difficulty celebrating Easter. We have difficulty sustaining it. The Easter season is 50 days long – ten days longer than Lent. It is meant for us to enjoy the resurrection, to celebrate it, to be transformed by it.
But we often truncate the joy of Easter. We cut it off before it really takes hold in our being and in our family life. Perhaps because we think we are not worthy of joy, that we don’t deserve it.
This Easter, may we learn to sustain it. Let us really live the season of Easter!
How? It’s really quite simple. Look for the little signs of life ~ like sighting your first tulip. Or here in Florida, like sighting your first beautiful white blossom on a Magnolia tree.
Oftentimes, during Lent, I suggest people make a nightly inventory and look for the failures in love that happened during the day.
Today, I suggest that we also look for our little successes, our small victories in love, look for the little moments of joy that happen each day, and just take note of them. Let them weave their spell in your life! These little awarenesses are the signs of resurrection happening in our own life.
There are signs of new life emerging throughout the world for which I invite us to give thanks this day. Can you see the signs of new life in your family, in you?
For two thousand years we have celebrated the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
And so, keep an eye out for the butterflies. They are the natural symbols of the resurrection. When you see a butterfly think of that little creature as US! We will be transformed from all our nastiness and ugliness into a beautiful new, creature of God, free to dance joyfully in the spirit as Jesus danced from his grave!
And now, before you go, here is “The Lord of the Dance” Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter fullscreen.
And here are today’s Mass readings. Click here.
William Barclay / the Daily Study Bible Series / The Gospel of Luke-Revised Edition / Westminster / John Knox Press / Louisville,Ky pp.352-3.