The Fifth Sunday of Easter ~ Life-Surge ~ Stay connected

The Fifth Sunday of Easter ~ May 2, 2021

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!

Now here;s the entire text of today’s Gospel . . . .

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.

With love,

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer  

William Barclay / The Daily Study Bible Series / the Gospel of John – Volume 2 Revised Edition  / Westminster Press Philadelphia 1975 p. 173.

The Fourth Sunday of Easter ~ Being known and loved anyway

The Fourth Sunday of Easter  Good Shepherd Sunday

April 25, 2021

Dear Friends,

The Fourth Sunday of Easter has my favorite Gospel story of Jesus as the Good Shepherd.  It’s my also my favorite image of Jesus. It’s the perfect image for us today.

Jesus says, I am the good shepherd.  A good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” 

Jesus says “I am” 45 times in the gospel of John. Some of the outstanding ones are: I am the bread of life. (Jn 6:35)  I am the light of the world (Jn. 8:12) I am the resurrection and the life (Jn 11: 25 and I am the way, the truth and the life (Jn. 14:6).

Our scripture scholar-friend William Barclay points out that there are two Greek words for ‘good’. One is  agathos that simply means the moral quality of the person; the other is kalos that means that in the goodness there’s a winsomeness that makes it lovely. When Jesus is described as the Good Shepherd, the word is kalos. There is loveliness in him. And yet we know that being a shepherd was (and is)a demanding task, a demanding vocation.

In Jesus’ time some looked down on shepherds as outcasts;  they were not usually welcome in the towns. Their work was demanding and perilous.  They were sometimes responsible for herds numbering in the thousands.  They contested with hyenas, jackals, wolves, bears, human enemies, the burning heat of the day, and bitter cold of night.  If something happened to a sheep, he had to produce prove it was not his fault.  The law laid it down: If torn by beasts, let him produce the evidence.” (Exodus 22:13)

It took me a long time to realize that shepherds walked down the road ahead of their flock.  And the sheep simply followed.  They just responded to his voice.

In Mark 10:32, we’re told that the disciples were going up to Jerusalem “and Jesus was leading the way.” And of course, along the way, he was teaching and forming them.

Jesus distinguishes between true and false shepherds. The false ones are mere hired hands that don’t go out of their way to help the sheep. The good shepherd is the one dedicated to his sheep and their care.

The concept of the Messiah as the Good Shepherd appeared frequently in the Old Testament, notably in the prophet Ezekiel. All of Chapter 34 is dedicated to the Good Shepherd. Ezekiel warns of the peril of following false shepherds who lead their flocks astray.   Seek the Good Shepherd who says, “The Lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal. . . . Thus shall they know that I the Lord, am their God, and they are my people.”

These words were as familiar to the Jews in the time of Jesus as they are to us. They, too, recognized the difference between a good shepherd and a hireling, who was more interested in his pay than the welfare of the flock.

What a wonderful model for leadership of any kind.  Someone who is not coercing.  Not goading.  Not threatening.

Jesus just wants to lead the way.  He wants to BE the way because he walked the path ahead of us.  He knows what human life  and death is about.

And more than that, he says “I know mine and mine know me.”

He’s talking about knowing us personally for who we are inside, who we really are.  He delights in those under his care. He rejoices in us.  He wants to be very close to us.

And he wants us to know him personally and intimately, too.

That’s enough.  For those of us  who know, who realize, that God loves us, lifts us up, supports us, wants us to be who we are, that is just enough.

This is the Jesus I know and love.  Jesus has invited me into a personal relationship with him and that makes all the difference in the way I live and love.

I, too, have always wanted to shepherd like that. To be an example to others.  To lead and to know and care for those in my life and those for whom I write.

This gospel says there’s a difference between a Good Shepherd and a hired hand who abandons the flock when things get rough.  The Good Shepherd will leave the flock and search for the lost sheep and bring them home.

Earlier in this passage he says, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” What greater blessing could there be than this: The shepherd knows my voice and I know his.  The closer, the more intimate that relationship, the better we will comprehend the words of our Shepherd: “No one can take them out of my hand.”

Jesus is not only the shepherd, he is the sheepgate. The sheep go in and out of the pasture and are safe.

Jesus is the Gate to the spiritual world. Because he claims us as his own, we are safe.

Those who dabble in mystical experience such as LSD and guided meditations of one sort or another are not protected in the spiritual word. Jesus is the only protected Door or Gate to the spiritual world.

Jesus says it was the Father who gave the sheep to him. And that Jesus received his confidence from the Father. Thus, you see, Jesus  was secure, not in his own power, but in God’s.

The picture seems a bit one-sided. The Good Shepherd is doing all the giving, all the caring, all the protecting. The sheep just receive.

Now isn’t that the relationship we strive for with our God? We have received everything from God; should we not give all in return? Our love, too, needs to be unconditional, our loyalty without compromise, our thoughts, words and deeds in accord with the will of God.

Now ask yourself this question: Am I, in turn, a Good Shepherd?

If you have children or others under your care, ask yourself: Do I shepherd well those who are under my care? Do I shepherd by leading? Or by goading? How can I model my leadership style on Jesus as the Good Shepherd?

I love this image of Jesus.   He’s my model of what a priest should be like — he’s a model of what a parent or a teacher or a coach, or even a good statesman should be.  I just hope that I can continue to be a good shepherd.

Pope Francis has challenged his priests  to go out among their flocks and “be shepherds with the smell of your sheep.”

And now my prayer . . . .

Jesus,

many of us have the role of shepherding others,

whether we be priests or religious or parents, teachers, coaches,

public servants or even the Leader of a Nation.

May we rejoice in that sacred honor and privilege

and do it well, not for profit but for love.

May we never betray that trust.

May we always delight in also being cared for by You.

To You be honor and glory and praise! 

CHRIST IS RISEN!

 

Now before you go, enjoy this version of Psalm 23. Be sure to enter full screen. Click here.

And here are all of today’s Mass readings. Click here.

Have a great day as we continue to celebrate our joyous Easter season.

With love,

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

The Third Sunday of Easter ~ Why are you troubled? You will be my witnesses!

The Third Sunday of Easter ~ April 18, 2021

Here we read of St. Luke’s account of how Jesus came to his own when they were gathered in the upper room (Lk. 24:35-48)

The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way,
and how Jesus was made known to them 
in the breaking of bread.

Pope Francis has warned of the danger of spiritual amnesia, of forgetting what the Lord has done for us. And of building a memory bank; and from that memory to go forward. And it would also be good for us to repeat the advice of Paul to Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead,. . . .Remember Jesus who has accompanied me up to now, and will accompany me until that moment when I must appear before him in glory”

While they were still speaking about this,
he stood in their midst and said to them,
“Peace be with you.”
But they were startled and terrified
and thought that they were seeing a ghost.
Then he said to them, “Why are you troubled?
And why do questions arise in your hearts?
Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.
Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones
as you can see I have.”
And as he said this,
he showed them his hands and his feet.
he took it and ate it in front of them.

Notice it’s not a storm or other danger but Jesus himself that startles and terrifies them .Because their spiritual vision is not fully developed, and they don’t recognize him in the manner they were used to. So, they experience him as a threat, a potentially harmful presence, Do we sometimes experience something similar? We sometimes are afraid the Lord too–like Adam and Eve in the Garden.

While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed,
he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?”
They gave him a piece of baked fish; 

Archbishop Sheen often remarked that whenever Christ humbles himself and wants us to give us a great favor, he first asks for one. Christ humbles himself in way because he wants us to be unafraid to come to him, to ”feed” him with his love.

He said to them:
“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you,
that everything written about me in the law of Moses
and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.”
Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.
And he said to them,
“Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer
and rise from the dead on the third day
and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins,
would be preached in his name
to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
You are witnesses of these things.”

Our scripture scholar-friend William Barclay notes that that several things 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 to which 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.

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, or in South Florida the flaming red Royal poinciana trees.

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.

And here are today’s Mass readings. Click here.

With love, 

Bob Traupman

Contemplative Writer

William Barclay / the Daily Study Bible Series / The Gospel of Luke-Revised Edition / Westminster / John Knox Press / Louisville,Ky pp.352-3.