Msgr. Owen F. Campion: Jesus is the vine
FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
Acts of the Apostles 9: 26-31; 1 John 3: 18-24; John 15: 1-8
The Acts of the Apostles, once again, provide the first reading of the liturgy at Easter time.
This weekend’s reading is about Paul and Barnabas. In the story, Paul, who was converted on the road to Damascus, and who then spent a lot of time learning about Jesus, attempts to join the Christian community in Jerusalem. The community fears him – not without reason. After all, Paul had been a very staunch opponent of the Christian gospel, and he had indeed persecuted the Christians in Jerusalem.
Of course, these same Christians must have wondered what dark purpose lay behind Paul’s desire to enter their community. Was he looking for ways to trap Christians or gather ammunition to attack them in front of the authorities?
Barnabas, who was already part of the community, spoke on behalf of Paul, urging Paul’s admission into the community. Finally, Paul was accepted.
Paul remained in Jerusalem, speaking boldly of Jesus wherever he went. Such fervor has not always been appreciated among those who are not of the Christian fold. Some tried to kill him, but the Christians saved him by taking him to Caesarea, the Roman capital of the region, a seaport on the Mediterranean located slightly north of present-day Tel Aviv. There they put Paul on a boat bound for Tarsus.
During this time, as Acts says, the Church in Palestine was growing and her faith was deepening.
Also, once again this season, the first epistle of John provides the second reading.
As was the case in the readings of past weekends, this passage is moving and convincing in its eloquence. He calls his readers “little children”. This form of address, in itself, is very expressive. Believers, like all humans, are vulnerable. They are weak. They are limited. They are “little children”, but children of God. God will protect them from peril. Sin puts them in danger.
The glorious Gospel of Saint John constitutes the last reading.
Last weekend, the Lord gave us the beautiful image of the Good Shepherd. He is our leader. He guides us away from danger.
This weekend, the image is no less telling and descriptive. Jesus is the vine. We believers are the branches. This image was as immediate in his message to the first listeners of these words as was the story of the Good Shepherd. The society in which Jesus lived was agrarian. Viticulture was popular. Everyone knew the vine and everyone knew what the winegrowers did for a living.
In last weekend’s Gospel, Jesus appeared as our guide and our protector. In this weekend’s reading, the connection between believers and Jesus is revealed. His life is in the believers. He is related to believers. Without Christ they can’t accomplish anything. In Christ they can live forever.
The key to this wonderful relationship is our willingness to love the Lord. His love for us is uncompromising, constant and complete.
Our love requires absolute trust and commitment.
Reaching this supreme level of love means recognizing the Lord and not placing anything above our desire to be disciples. Paul is a good role model. After despising Jesus, he changed his heart, completely, totally.
The image of the vine is useful. The branches die if they are cut from the vine. Christians die spiritually if they are cut off from the vine, which is Christ. The tragedy in this case is that some have intentionally cut themselves off from the vine. The blade is a willful sin.
To look at Paul again as a role model, he did indeed convert. The process was not instantaneous. Elsewhere, Acts speaks of his intense study and reflection as he sought to learn more about Jesus. For him, discipleship was not a lonely experience. He wanted to be part of the church.
Once converted, Paul turned wholeheartedly to Jesus.
A secondary lesson concerns evangelism. Barnabas contacted Paul to bring him into the community.