We heard Our Blessed Lord in today’s Gospel reading speak words that we need to continually bear in mind as we try to live out our lives as true disciples of His:
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.
In the Christian experience of life there is no place for feelings of personal superiority at success in the ‘rat race’, or pride in coming out on top ‘of the pile’, for Christians know that what is of importance for our own and the world’s salvation is not what we do of ourselves -- without Me you can do nothing of worth -- so much as what we do in Him, and supremely, what we allow Him to do in and through us – ‘whoever remains in Me and I in him will bear much fruit’.
As it is written, ‘He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.’ (1 Corinthians 1:31)
Therefore, let us look first of all at what is meant by, involved in, the words ‘Whoever remains in Me’.
Many like to think that those words of Jesus refer to us remaining in Him by our occasionally remembering, thinking about, Him, somewhat as one might recall the memory of a friend who has passed on. Jesus, however, has not passed on in that way, for He remains present to us. In addition, the words ‘Whoever remains in Me’ speak of our whole being remaining in Him, not just our mind occasionally adverting to Him with perhaps a measure of approval or even reverence. Jesus Himself made no effort to remain available, open, to our minds as did the famous authors of old still read and admired through their writings, for Personally, Jesus wrote nothing; neither was He, in His death, surrounded by zealous followers declaring their hearts’ devotion, for He was lifted up high on a cross in visible abandonment, while His closest, carefully chosen apostles were all -- except the ‘youngster’ John who was not threatened by the religious authorities -- quick to desert Him and escape to the safety of obscurity, where they found themselves afraid for the present, and unsure of the future significance of His life and work among them.
Whoever – a whole person of mind and heart, body and soul -- remains in Me and I in him will bear much fruit.
It was Jesus' rising from the dead in the fullness of His glorified humanity that made the difference: for then, though gloriously embodied, so to speak, He was not only seen but also touched, He was not only heard to speak but also seen to eat. His Risen Presence was, in that way, and still is, a true bodily presence; a gloriously different body indeed, but nevertheless, He was truly and wholly present with His Apostles in what we may call a supremely real and spiritual way, or perhaps more colloquially, a really spiritual way, and that mysteriously truthful reality is still the manner of His abiding with us today. Jesus is not a memory to be recalled, nor a departed friend to be lamented, He is a present, living, reality among us in His fulness of being, and calling for, provoking, a response from us that, in turn, has to involve our whole being.
‘Whoever remains in Me‘, refers therefore, to one who remains, indeed abides, in this real, spiritual, Risen Jesus, as a member of His gloriously alive Body, as one living in Jesus by the Spirit of Jesus. The commandment of Jesus that we should love one another, is therefore, that we should love all our brethren with us in the Body of Christ, whatever their racial origins or characteristics, that together we might bring forth acceptable fruit for the Father:
This is My commandment, love one another as I love you;
that is, love one another by the very love of Jesus actually loving us and wanting, seeking in and through us, to love our brethren.
St. John in our second reading took up the command of Jesus:
His (God’s) commandment is this: we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another just as He (Jesus) commanded us.
You will remember how Jesus at times took elements from the Law of Moses, and then confirmed them by intensifying them (cp. Matthew 5:21-22):
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.
In like manner the New Testament command of Jesus to ‘love one another’ is not the same as the Old Testament commandment (Leviticus 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 -- Levite, Priest, or 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 loves Me, so I also love you; remain in My love. If you keep My commandments you will remain in My love; this I command you: love one another. (Jn. 15:9, 10, 17)
Jesus’ ‘neighbour-commandment’ therefore, does not relate merely to fellow Israelites, it is a commandment for the Body of Christ, for the whole Church -- the sacrament of restored humanity responding to God -- for all members of Jesus’ mystical Body loving one another as I (Jesus) love you, that is, as Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, is loving each and every one of us at this very moment.
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, vital and vivifying, operation of every member making up and fulfilling the Mystical Body of Christ; and that is why she, Mother Church is to be specially blessed, protected, and cherished by our observance of Jesus’ special commandment:
Love one another as I have loved, and am now loving, you.
Let us now notice how this membership of, this living in and by Mother Church, meant everything 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 independent character was unmistakably manifested at times 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, Doctor of the Gentiles, he was concerned and firmly determined to regulate his proclamation of Jesus in accordance with that of the original Apostles, above all Peter:
Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and I 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 I 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, we too are called to love Mother Church much more than ourselves, and to love one another in Mother Church. However, in Mother Church let us too, with St. Paul, look up to One alone, Who is the vinedresser and Father; let us look at One only, Jesus the Lord, the True Vine Who established her, and Whose word prunes and purifies us in her; let us trust and hope in the One Holy Spirit Who is Jesus’ Gift to His Church and then her 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)
And thus, in that full, faithful, and devout joy, may we all attain our own fulfilment in Jesus:
By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become My disciples!