Breaking Open the Word

May 2, 2021

 

5th Sunday of Easter

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Introduction

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Today’s Gospel provides the metaphor of Jesus as the vine planted by the Father that provides life to the branches.  The image of vines in the vineyard would be familiar to the 1st century Jews.  Through the writings of Old Testament prophets like Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah and Hosea, the Jews believed that they were the true vine.  They would have especially understood the Father passing judgment on the unproductive branches, casting the unfaithful into the fire of destruction.  John’s Gospel often speaks about the events in the time of Jesus.  But its symbology also speaks to the Johannine community some 50-60 years later.  That community would have understood the reference to the unproductive branches as the Gnostic heretics present in their midst.

 

Our second reading reinforces the “pruning” reference in the Gospel by naming the love that the beloved children who remain faithful to the truth would show: obedience to the commandments, faithful belief and confidence in God, and the love of others from a confident heart that remains in Him.

 

Finally, our first reading from Acts shows the hesitant but ultimate acceptance of Paul, once their persecutor, into the community of disciples in Jerusalem.  Paul’s path of unbelief and persecution to conversion through humble obedience to Jesus, to acceptance by boldly proclaiming his own salvation through Jesus results in him being protected by the community and sent off on mission to the barren areas of Tarsus.

 

Today’s readings enable us to examine our “attachment” to the Father through Jesus the Vine, reflect on how well we have been “pruned” in His Word, and our readiness to be fruitful for others.

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Gospel Explained

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Jesus is doing more than just establishing himself as the true vine in today’s Gospel.  Jesus is describing to his disciples, and us, on what it takes to be a branch of the vine that produces much fruit.  We must remain in Him through obedience to what he commands us, by continuing to be pruned by his Word, and as productive branches, spreading out to the barren spaces that have not yet received His fruit.

 

Jesus’ statement, “I am the vine” probably is derived from the language used in the Bread of Life discourse.  The association of the branches with the community of believers provides a link to the theology of the church as the Body of Christ.  Those who reject Jesus also reject the eucharistic body of believers.

 

Jesus’ call to “remain in me” (some translations use abide in me) more accurately comes from the original verb meaning “to stay” with Jesus.  This phrase is used more in John’s Gospel than in the other three Gospels combined.  In a theological sense, John uses the phrase to call all believers to “stay with” the Divine Presence.  We must always work to keep the indwelling of the Divine Presence in our hearts and minds, to guide all our actions from a foundation of our love of God.  

 

In John’s Gospel, discipleship comes not from leaving all our worldly possessions and following Jesus to a new land, but to fill ourselves with His presence such that our daily life seeks only to please Him, not to fulfill our own desires.  Ultimately, our discipleship consists of being grafted to Jesus the vine at the very core of our heart and soul.

 

Our Gospel reading ends with a promise like the covenant between God and Israel expressed in Deuteronomy.  God entered a covenant of love with the people.  God keeps the covenant with those who live according to God’s will.  God promises in today’s readings that a loving relationship with Jesus and the Father will result in benefits for his disciples.  God will answer their prayers; they will bear fruit and live in joy.

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Today’s Theme:

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Jesus is proclaiming to his disciples in today’s Gospel that productive, fruitful life comes only through unity with the Father through Jesus himself.  Only Jesus can provide us the life that brings true joy.  Without Jesus, we will wither in spiritual barrenness, and our life will be without meaning and true purpose.

 

Jesus has previously told the disciples that he is the Bread of Life, the food we need for our journey home to the Father.  When many followers abandoned Him because of his instructions to partake of his flesh and blood, Jesus asked the disciples, “What about you, will you also abandon me?”  In today’s Gospel Jesus again tells his disciples that it is only through Him that they will have a fruitful, productive life.

 

We know from the Synoptic Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles that it took the resurrection to finally answer the question of “Who is Jesus?” with certainty for his believers.  The resurrection is the central pivot point on which our entire Christian faith depends.  The actual resurrection was not witnessed by anyone.  But those who experiences firsthand the risen Christ knew that the reign of God had indeed arrived in the person of Jesus.

 

It was the experience of the risen Christ that enabled the disciples to wait in hope, to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and become the productive fruit that would spread Christianity throughout the entire world.  The Holy Spirit, the very relationship of love between the Father and the Son, is what fills those who believe in Jesus, and choose to live not their own life, but life in Christ.  Life in Christ is mysteriously and beautifully described by the words of Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” 

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Theme in Our Life

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To have life “in Christ” is to become fully dedicated to being one of the branches on the Vine that is Christ.

 

Bishop Barron, in his commentary on today’s Gospel in the Word on Fire Bible eloquently describes life in Christ with the following:

 

“Jesus declares that he is the vine and we are the branches.  He is the power and energy source in which we live… Jesus is the source of supernatural life in us, and without him we would have none of it.

 

What does this look like concretely, to be attached to the vine?  It means a steady immersion in the prayer of the Church.  It means steady communion with God, speaking to him on a regular basis.  It means an immersion in the Scriptures, soaking in the truth of the Bible.  It means engaging in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

 

And, of course, it means you must participate in the sacraments – especially Confession and the Eucharist.  By the sacraments, we stay close to the Christ who forgives our sins and who enlivens our spirits.”[1]

Prayer, Scripture, and Sacraments are the very tangible gifts given to us to have the lifeblood of Christ as our supernatural energy to live a life of joy no matter what we face in our life here on earth.  These indeed, are the gifts that enable us to live “in Christ.”

 

[1] The Word on Fire Bible, The Gospels; Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, c. 2020; “We Live in Him, He in Us” p.548

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Preparing for Sunday

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To Prepare for this Sunday’s Liturgy of the Word, consider the following:

 

  1. How freely do I allow the power of Christ to flow to my heart and soul?

  2. In what areas (prayer, scripture, sacraments) do I need an infusion of the life of Christ?

  3. Who needs me to share the life of Christ with them this week?

Let us pray:

 

God our Father,

Look upon us with love.

You redeem us and make us your children in Christ.

Give us true freedom

And bring us to the inheritance you promised.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,

Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

God forever and ever. 

Amen.