Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Vine and the Branches

                                    5th Sunday of Easter

In the three Sundays following Easter the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles has mainly followed the activity of Peter. However, the first reading this week introduces the Apostle Paul. In today’s reading we hear that after his conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul returned to Jerusalem to join the disciples of the Lord but did not receive a warm reception.

Because of his past activity as a persecutor of the Church, the disciples “were all afraid of him” and did not believe that he was a true disciple. Only after Barnabas introduced Paul to the apostles and told them of all that Paul had done, did the apostles welcome him into their midst. Paul had seen the Risen Lord, spoken to Him, and “spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus.” The fruits or results of Paul’s conversion were obvious.

Today’s gospel is also about bearing good fruit or getting good results. Jesus compares Himself to a vine.

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 every one that does he prunes so that it may bear more fruit.

So, just as in the case of St. Paul it is not just a matter of saying we believe in Jesus, we must show the results. Jesus says that He and His Spirit will be in His followers and that we will bear fruit even if sometimes we don’t seem to realize it. What are the fruits of the spirit of God? It is clear that Jesus is not talking about grapes, or apples or oranges. In his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul gave a partial list.

But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Our tradition has expanded the list a little. Charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity.

To get a better idea, let’s just consider the opposites. Are we uncharitable? Do we lack joy, or fail to find joy in our lives or the lives of others? Do we possess inner peace, or are we full of anxiety? Are we impatient or easily fly off the handle? Do we fail to exhibit kindness or goodness to others? Are we generous not just with our money but with our time and compassion? Do we sometimes fail to be gentle with even those we love the most? Are we unfaithful? Can others rely on us to keep our word? Has popular culture made us insensitive to immodesty? Rather than self-control do we put the gratification of our selves and our desires ahead of everything else? Finally, do we lack chastity in thought, word and deed?

It is not easy to bear such good fruit and we all need help, even if it involves a constant pruning or cutting back on the things that can easily consume our lives. But if we can exhibit the fruit of the Holy Spirit even to a small degree, we can be sure that Jesus is working in us. It might be hard to remember Paul’s whole list but in today’s second reading, Saint John sums it up in one word: Love.

And his commandment is this;
We should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ,
And love one another just as he commanded us.
Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them,
And the way we know that he remains in us
Is from the Spirit he gave us.


Reading 1. Acts 9: 26-31
Reading II. 1 John 3: 18-24
Gospel. John 15: 1-8 (the Vine and the Branches)

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