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Homily, 5th Sunday of Easter

Remaining Connected to the Vine

Fifth Week of Easter B

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

The image of the vine was a rich one for the Jews since the land of Israel was covered with numerous vineyards. It had religious connotations to it as well. Isaiah spoke of the house of Israel as "the vineyard of the Lord"(Isaiah 5:7). Jeremiah said that God had planted Israel "as his choice vine" (Jeremiah 2:21). While the vine became a symbol of Israel as a nation, it also was used in the scriptures as a sign of degeneration. Isaiah's prophecy spoke of Israel as a vineyard which "yielded wild grapes" (Isaiah 5:1-7). When Jesus calls himself the true vine, he makes it clear that no one can claim their spiritual inheritance through just association with a particular people. Rather, it is only through Jesus Christ that one can become grafted into the true "vineyard of the Lord".

Jesus wrote no books. He left no buildings or monuments behind. He did something greater- he built a community. This was his ‘monument’. I am the vine; you are the branches - this was the image he used to describe the community he had founded. It is a simple but profound illustration of unity, closeness, and interdependence.  The image of the vine is a wonderful one. A vine does not grow straight up like a tree or most other plants. Its flexible stem hunts for any hold, spiraling around posts, climbing up fences, wrapping around other plants. And in doing so, it connects everything in its surroundings. And so does Jesus. Jesus, the true vine reaches out to all, all of us are connected, not just to Jesus, the vine but to everyone else. There is no such a thing as solitary Christian. Every Christian is linked to Christ and to all other Christians.

Jesus continues to say; “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing”. In other words, Jesus instructs his disciples about their relationship with him and with his Father. The vine, the trunk does not produce fruit. It is the branches that bear the fruit. It is us, his followers who are to bear fruit. How does the vine become fruitful? The vine dresser carefully prunes the vine before it can bear good fruit. With pruning, unproductive branches are removed so that the life and productive power of the vine can successfully produce good fruit.  A good example of one who bore fruit is given to us today in Paul, the Pharisee-turned –disciple of Christ. Paul came to know Jesus through a series of extraordinary experiences.  In today’s reading we encounter Paul, then called Saul, trying to become part of the community of disciples in Jerusalem. He had undergone a dramatic conversion experience while travelling to Damascus. The strange thing about it was that at the time, Saul was on his rounds determined to destroy the church.  The Lord evidently saw in Saul a potential partner in the spread of the good news. But it required knocking him down to the ground and taking away his sight to get the attention of the Lord. That was the beginning of a lifetime of “pruning” for Saul.

Saul would be pruned of his arrogance, his violence, his self-will and whatever stood between him and the message of Christ. He bore the fruit of repentance and conversion to Christ. Saul, the persecutor of Christians became Paul, a disciple of Christ, an apostle of the Gentiles who spent the bulk of his ministry in pagan lands planting churches among the Gentiles. But there was still more to be done. Paul’s pruning included mending fences with other disciples. At first, the disciples were afraid of the ex-persecutor; in their eyes he was a traitor. The fact that Paul took all these trials in his stride shows the depth of his faith in Jesus.  

Each one of us too is faced with pruning so that we can come to full and fruitful life in Christ. Like Paul, we may carry the dead wood of missed opportunities, barren branches of self-will and arrogance or other faults. These need to be stripped away so that we can bear fruit for the reign of God.  Our place at God’s table in eternity, our worthiness to be called disciples of Christ is determined not by titles, not by our facility to talk about our beliefs, not by self-imagined greatness but our belief in Jesus Christ, and our remaining in him. Without prayer and sacraments, it is impossible to grow in holiness. Without union with Christ, our life would be barren, void, futile and meaningless. Branch and vine, fruit and stem belong to the one plant. One in Christ, drawing our life from him, we are called to bear much fruit through lives of wisdom and charity. May we always strive to stay connected to the Vine.

By God’s providence, this gospel also ushers in the month of May – dedicated as ever to our Blessed Mother. Spring is now in full swing and we crown Our Lady with flowers. The Virgin Mary forever stands for us as the exemplar of fruitfulness and discipleship. It is our joy to honor her always, to call her “blessed” along with every other generation – but especially during this month of May dedicated to her. Immediately after mass we have the opportunity to bless the Marian Gazebo and crown the image of the Virgin Mary. You are all welcome. ###

 

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