+ Fifth Sunday of Easter B
Acts 9:26-31;1 Jn 3:18-24; Jn 15:1-8
I am the Vine, you are the branches
In a recent survey 3,000 British adults said the top five things they could not ‘‘live without’’ were sunshine, the Internet, clean drinking water, refrigerators, and Facebook. Flushing toilets came in ninth. ‘‘Brits are obsessed by the weather, so it’s not surprising sunshine was rated as the top thing we couldn’t live without,’’ said the pollster. ‘‘But to say you can’t live without material things over drinking water is crazy.’
How easy we are carried away by attachment to gifts or provisions without any due attention to the giver or provider. In today’s gospel, Jesus speaks to us about the necessity for a branch to remain attached to the vine if it must bear fruit. That is to say, we can’t live a true Christian life without him. “I am the vine you are the branches, cut off from me, you can do nothing.” In fact, he calls himself the “true vine”, and his father is the vine dresser. By implication, there are false vines-attachment to things that are not beneficial to Christian living. In speaking about false prophets, Christ says, “by their fruit you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?”( Mtt 7:16). Indeed, our lives, words and deeds speak more eloquently of who we are than our membership in Church.
One of the great needs of our day is for Christians to be Christians! This is possible as long as we are grafted to Christ in such a way that our actions begin to flow from our relationship with him, like branches on a vine. Only then can we speak like Paul, “It is no longer I that live, but Christ that lives in me”(Gal 2:20) In this regard, church membership, attendance, regular reception of the Eucharist are necessary, but they are not enough. There is real need for a personal relationship in which we can speak with Christ and listen to him as a friend, after all he calls us friends(John 15:15).
To remain in Christ means to be conscious of how much we need him in our lives, in all our endeavors and to call on him day and night, no matter what. Speak to him at the beginning of the day; when you step into your car, and at the close of the day. Speak like a little child would, to his parents. Fernando Ortega’s composition is meaningful here: “I need thee every hour most gracious Lord, no tender voice like thine can peace afford. Oh bless me now my Savior I come to thee. I need thee every hour, stay thou nearby. Temptations lose their power when thou are nigh. I need thee every hour, in joy or pain, come quickly and abide or life is vain.”
True life in Christ is always translated in good character, good works and in our relationship with one another. Peace and joy are the inevitable fruits of a real union with Christ. Sadness and gloom are not Christ-like qualities. Secondly, our prayerful union shows itself in a life of compassion and kindness to one another. Above all, charity is the greatest fruit of the Christian identity. St James says, “Faith without good works is dead”(Jm 2:14) We should be charitable with our time, talents, gifts and what have you.
If Christ is not at the center of our daily routine, we can do nothing, at least which will bring us true satisfaction. See how we have become as busy as bees, yet we find no fulfillment at the end of the day. These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses but broken homes.
As I see it, we spend enormous time and resources on the false vines. Just think for a moment of your very first thought or activity of the day. For some it’s a cup of coffee, morning news, your financial situation. Scale of preference! At other times we spend so much on our bodies and care very little about our spiritual life. The National Geographic Magazine featured an article on human quest for physical comeliness: …In the US last year, people spent 6billion dollars on fragrance and another 6 billion on makeup. Hair and skin care products drew 8 billion, while fingernails items alone accounted for a billion…20 million was spent on diet products and services-in addition to the billions that were paid out for health club membership and cosmetic surgery.
It all came up to 40 billion dollars, spent in 12 months on bodies that are soon to age and then disappear. If we are truly in union with God, he will inspire us to spend some of the time and money wisely-on charity and other spiritually fruitful activities. Without Christ, these things don’t give us any real satisfaction. He came that we may have life and have it in abundance (Jn 10:10).
And what happens if we don’t bear fruits? He makes it clear that anyone who does not remain in him will be thrown out like a branch and wither. Here we are reminded, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot (Mtt 5:13)
He is speaking to Christians who are only church-goers, but who lack any real relationship with him. Such Christians can be referred as ‘baptized pagans.’ “The true measure of a man is not what he does on Sunday, but who he is Monday through Saturday.” Some Christians can be very superficial, while others seem to have only a business-like relationship with God, as if he is a genie on the shore of a beach.
Our friendship with Christ neither spares nor immunizes us from our daily cares. There is no point to lament over our problems as if God has abandoned us. No, this is a form of spiritual pruning and he does it with care. The pruning process hurts, but it is always for a good purpose. “For those whom the Lord loves, he disciplines, and he scourges every son whom he receives”(Heb 12:6). And we know for those who love God, all things work together for good(Rom 8:28).
We can only conclude with Christ’s words of assurance: “If you remain in me, ask for whatever you want, it will be done for you.”(Jn 15:8). A common song says it all: "If you walk with God you will see a miracle in your life." But this union calls for steadfastness and perseverance at all times. The shortest distance between a problem and a solution is the distance between your knees and the floor. The one who kneels to the Lord can stand up to anything. Stay close to him and trust his love.