5th Sunday of Easter - April 28, 2024

 5th Sunday of Easter - April 28, 2024

Acts 9:26-31; 1 John 3:18-24; John 15:1-8

 

Theme: Jesus Is the True Vine, God Is the Vine Grower, and We Are the Branches”

In last Sunday’s Gospel, we heard Jesus identifying himself as the “Good Shepherd” who laid his life on the cross for us to be saved. He is the Good Shepherd who knows us, his sheep, by name, and we are called also to know him, hear his voice, and follow him. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who brings other sheep from another fold, meaning all of us (Jews and Gentiles, white and black, and rich and poor) to make just one flock and one Shepherd. In our turn, we were invited to become the “good shepherds” for our brothers and sisters, capable of “laying down” our lives for them, knowing them (meaning understanding their problems and coming to their aid,) and reaching out to other people and inviting them to join our Church community. Together, we become one family without discrimination.

Today's Gospel passage is the “True Vine” Discourse found in chapter 15 of the Gospel according to John. Its historical context is Jesus’ final comments to his disciples at the Last Supper. Our text (including vv. 9-17 that the lectionary has omitted) is immediately preceded by Jesus’ Last Super Discourses (14:1-14) and his promise to send the Advocate to his disciples (14:15-31). It is followed by Jesus preparing his disciples to know that the world would hate them in the same way it hated him (15:18 – 16:4).

Our Gospel passage is an allegorical account. It presents three interconnected images and describes the roles of each. Jesus is portrayed as the vine. His role is to love his disciples, remain in them, and invite them to remain in him. The branches stand for the believers who are called to remain in Jesus, the vine, to produce much fruit. Finally, God is depicted as the vine grower whose role is to “cut off” believers in Jesus who do not bear fruits and prune those who do.

The first image is Jesus as the “true vine.” His role is to invite believers to remain in him as he remains in them (V.1a, 4a.) The imagery of the vine is typical in the Bible. Israel is portrayed as a vine (Ez 15:2; 17:5-10; 19:10; Hos 10:1; Jer 2: 21) and as a vineyard (see Is 5:1-7; Mt 21:33-46). In Psalms 80: 15, the psalmist identifies the vine as the Son of Man. Also, the Wisdom identifies herself as a vine in Sir 24:17. In our text, there is a eucharistic symbolism in Jesus’ statement, “I am the true vine.” In John 6, Jesus declared that he is the “Bread of life.” Bread and wine are the two species we use in the liturgy of the Mass that become the Body and Blood of Christ.  So, when he speaks of himself as the “true vine,” Jesus affirms that his Blood is the “true wine” that grants us eternal life. We, believers, can “remain” in him, mainly through participation in the Eucharistic celebration, during which we receive his Body and Blood in the Holy Communion.

The second image is that of believers as the branches. Christians are the branches whose role is to remain in Jesus, our true vine, as he remains in us (vv. 4-8.) To remain in Jesus means to be attached to him, stay with him, and be in a one-on-one relationship with him, not temporarily but permanently. As to say, whenever sins distance us from God, we must immediately return to him and reconcile with him through the sacrament of confession. And once we are reconciled with God, we must strengthen this relationship in prayer, especially in the Eucharistic celebration. In addition to the sacraments of confession and Eucharist, our second reading tells us that to remain in Jesus, we should keep God’s commandments and do what pleases him (1 Jn 3:18-24.) He summarizes God’s commandments in this phrase, “We should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us.” (1 Jn 3:23). So, to remain in Jesus, we must regularly use the sacrament of confession, participate in the Eucharistic celebrations, believe in Jesus, and love our brothers and sisters.

Jesus gives some reasons why we should remain in him. The first reason is for us to bear much fruit. The fruits here stand for holiness, virtue, and good works. Jesus asserts that like a branch that cannot bear fruit on its own unless it is attached to the vine, we cannot bear the fruits of holiness, virtue, and good works unless we remain in him (see v. 4.). First of all, here, Jesus reminds us that to be Christian is not just avoiding sins but also, and foremost, living our faith in action by doing the good works. In the parable of the Talents (Mt 25:14-30; Lk 19:12-27), Jesus teaches us that eternal life will be granted to those who multiply the gifts that he entrusted us. Saint Paul also says the same thing when he states that we will be judged based on our deeds; eternal life will be granted to those who produce good works (Rm 2:6-11). So, back to our Gospel passage, Jesus reminds us that the only way to bear much fruit (meaning to multiply God’s gifts or produce good works) is to remain in him.

The second reason we should remain in Jesus is so that we might live. “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” (V. 6). This statement alludes to the present and eschatological lives. In both cases, there is no life outside of Jesus. Life or happiness in this world is not in the material we possess but in our relationship with Jesus. Eternal life will be granted based on whether we remain in Jesus in this present life. Eternal condemnation is for those who do not remain in Jesus. They “will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire, and they will be burned.” (v. 6). Therefore, whenever sin cuts us off from God, we should not remain disconnected from our Lord for so long; instead, we must return to his communion as soon as possible through the sacrament of confession and strengthen this communion in prayer, especially the Eucharist, and the good works. Jesus is the source of life and happiness. Let us always remain in him to have life in this present age and eternal life at the end of time.  

The third reason we should remain in Jesus is so that God might hear our prayers. Jesus says, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want, and it will be done for you.” (v.7). Here, Jesus teaches us that prayer is conditioned on whether we remain in him. The first thing to ask God in our prayer should be forgiveness. That is why we always start Masses with the Confiteor and Kyrie eleison, asking God to forgive us of our sins. God does not hear the prayers of those who are cut off from him and have no intention to reconcile with him. Let us remain in Jesus for God to hear our prayers and grant us what we ask him. Also, this part of the Gospel teaches us that remaining in Jesus means that we become one with God; his wills become our wills. So, when Jesus says, “…ask for whatever you want, and it will be done for you,” he means that since we become one with God, God knows what is best for us. He grants us what he and we, in our perfect communion, agree that is best for us. So, God hears our prayers when we remain in his Son Jesus.   

Next to the images of Jesus as the vine and believers as the branches, the third image that our Gospel presents us is God as the vine grower. His role is to prune believers. “He takes away every branch in [Jesus] that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruits.” (V.2). First, we learn that believers in Jesus who do not bear fruits are removed. I said previously that as Christians, we are expected not only to avoid sins (which will make us passive) but also, and foremost, to live our Christian faith in action by doing good works. It is not enough to claim that we are Christians. Good Christians who remain in Jesus must produce fruits of holiness, virtue, and good works. Second, we learn that for believers who remain in Jesus and bear fruit, God still prunes them so that they bear more fruits. Note that pruning can only be painful as it is a cutting process. Here, Jesus says that God “prunes” us, meaning he disciplines us so that we bear much fruit. The challenges and difficult moments that we encounter daily should not always be viewed negatively. Sometimes, we should see them as God's “pruning” process, improving our spiritual life and enabling us to produce the fruits of holiness, virtue, and good works. For instance, we should view the merging of our Church, Our Lady Star of the Sea, with Saint Mary of the Angels Church as God’s “pruning” process to make us stronger again. Let us use Paul's example in our first reading.

Paul experienced rejection in Jerusalem. The Jews regarded him as an apostate, and the Christian community considered him a suspect. Finally, later, he was accepted with the help of his companion Barnabas, who gave a favorable report on how Jesus appeared to him in Damascus and called him to become his disciple. Paul’s painful experience in Jerusalem can be understood as God’s pruning process. Being called or being Christian is not a synonym for a “suffering-free” life. We should consider our difficult moments also as God’s pruning process to make us stronger spiritually to bear the fruits of holiness, virtue, and good works. Amen.

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

 

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