Fifth Sunday of Easter (Year B)
(Acts 9:26-31; 1st. John 3:18-24; John 15:1-8)
Our Blessed Lord in the Gospel reading spoke words that we must continually bear in mind and hold close to our hearts as we seek to live as His disciples:
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.
Feelings of personal superiority over success Our Blessed Lord in the Gospel reading spoke words that we must continually bear in mind and hold close to our hearts in the ‘rat race’, or of pride for coming out ‘on top of the pile’, though human enough to be known, appreciated, and perhaps secretly admired by many despite being experienced by only a relatively small company of ‘winners’, are totally and diametrically opposed to Christian values:
As it is written, ‘He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.’ (1 Cor. 1:31)
For Christians know that what is of importance is not what they themselves do – for Jesus said, without Me you can do nothing – so much as what they allow Him to do in and through them for love of the brethren – fellow branches of the fruitful vine -- and for God’s supreme glory:
Whoever remains in Me and I in him will bear much fruit.
Let us look, therefore, first of all at what is meant, involved, by the words, whoever remains in Me.
Many like to think that Jesus is there referring to our abiding in Him by our occasionally calling to mind some of the most lovable aspects of His unique personality, or of our appreciative, though passing, consideration of items of His traditional teachings, somewhat as one might remain attached to the memory of a loved-one, a teacher, or of a friend, who has passed on.
Jesus however is no absent loved-one, no departed friend, nor is He but a remembered and revered former teacher; for He is always available for us, ever present to us. In addition, the words ‘whoever remains in Me’ speak of our whole being being found in Him, not just our mind thinking on Him, or our heart cherishing His memory. Indeed, Jesus Himself made no effort to perpetuate His memory in our minds through personal writings, for He wrote nothing. Nor was He, in His death, surrounded by zealous followers deploring His fate and declaring their hearts’ devotion, for He was put to death in abandonment and His former disciples were, as a whole, quick to desert Him and escape to the safety of obscurity, where they were to be found despairing for the future and unsure of the significance of His work among them.
It was His rising from the dead in the fullness of His glorious humanity that made all the difference: for then He was not only seen, but heard to speak; He was not only touched, but seen to eat, sharing food with His disciples. His risen presence was, indeed, a true bodily presence, but it was not a normal ordinary presence, because it was a presence evoking worship, a body demanding trust. It was, in short, a glorious body, most gloriously different in some respects, but nevertheless, it was the Body of the Jesus they had known before and followed as His disciples, Who had latterly been crucified, and Who was now – recognizably -- once again truly present among them and for them; and a like mysteriously worshipful, true, and trustworthy real presence is still the manner of His abiding with us today. Jesus does not just evoke a message to be recalled to mind, He is not merely a memory to be cherished, He is a totally NEW Personal Being to be experienced in humble worship and appreciated through the self-less commitment of love.
‘Whoever remains in Me‘, refers therefore, to one who remains as a whole person, indeed who thus wholly abides, in the whole Jesus, as a living member of His Body and in the Church, living as one made new by the Spirit of Jesus, as St. Paul proclaimed to those he found seeking for God among the traces and shadows of Athens:
He is not far from each one of, for in Him we live and move and have our being. (Acts 17:27s.)
Abiding in the Body of Jesus we abide in His love, if we keep His commandment to love one another. We should love all fellow members of the Body of Christ -- that is, concretely put, all our brethren in Mother Church spread throughout the world – so that together we might bring forth acceptable fruit for the Father, for, as Jesus Himself said:
By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become My disciples.
You will remember how Jesus at times took elements from the Law of Moses and confirmed them by intensifying them:
You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder,' and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. (Matt 5:21-22)
In like manner the New Testament command of Jesus to ‘love one another’ is not the same as the Old Testament commandment (Lev 19:18) which declares:
You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord.
That was a command to love fellow Israelites. Jesus, however, as you know, extended that love to all men in His parable about the Good Samaritan:
“Which of these three -- the respected fellow Israelites, Levite and Priest, or the despised and hated Samaritan -- do you think was neighbour to him who fell among the thieves?" He said, "He who showed mercy on him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise." (Luke 10:36-37)
Moreover, the original Old Testament ‘neighbour commandment’ required loving the other ‘as yourself’, and that, Jesus took up once again at the Last Supper:
As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
Jesus’ ‘neighbour commandment’, therefore does not relate merely to fellow Israelites, it is a commandment for the Body of Christ, which concerns the whole Church, one which involves loving ‘one another as I have loved you’.
Thereby, we can gather some idea of just how much Mother Church should mean for us who aspire to become true disciples of Jesus: she is the only authentic milieu, the truly necessary atmosphere, for the full and vital co-operation of every cell sharing in the life of the Mystical Body of Christ; only through, in, her alone can we ‘contact’ all of those ‘one another’s’ commended to us by Jesus. That is why she is to be protected, cherished and nurtured by our observance of His special commandment:
Love one another as I have loved you.
Let us now notice how supremely important this membership of, this living in and by Mother Church, was to Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles:
When Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out. And he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Saul became in the Church, Paul, a preacher whose powerfully independent character was most clearly manifested in confrontations with Barnabas and Mark (Acts 15:37-39), and his famous show-down with Peter at Antioch (Galatians 2:12). Nevertheless, independent though he was by nature, on becoming, in the Church, the Doctor of the Gentiles, he was concerned and firmly determined to regulate his proclamation of Jesus with that of the original Apostles, above all Peter:
Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord's brother. (Galatians 1:18-19)
After fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and also took Titus with me. I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to those who were of reputation, lest by any means I might run, or had run, in vain. (Galatians 2:1-2)
People of God, let us too with St. Paul respect, love, promote and serve Mother Church, and in her, love one another in sincere truth and with humble co-operation. However, must never forget that we can and should look up to One alone, He Who is the vinedresser and Father; likewise we should always look at One only, Jesus Our Lord and Saviour, the one True Vine Who establishes her, and Whose word prunes and purifies her; and at all times and in all situations we should look for the One Holy Spirit Who is, first of all, the Father’s Promise and Jesus’ Gift to Mother Church before becoming her life-giving gift to us:
These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:11)