5 Sunday of Easter, Year B
Acts 9:26-31; 1Ga 3:18-24; Jn 15:1-8
Introduction: This is a homily/Scripture reflection in a book, titled: ‘Every Week God Speaks We Respond’, Cycle B, intended to be published in the future by Reverend John Tran Binh Trong.
It was published in Vietnamese in the US 2008 and republished in Viet Nam 2011. To keep the author’s writing style, this homily has not been edited and may not be by a hired hand. However, if readers would like to point out mistake(s) in spelling and grammar and/or to suggest English phrases and expressions, it would be greatly appreciated by the author, whose English is not his mother tongue and who did not live in the US until his adulthood. Passive sentences are used intentionally in this context as to avoid using the first personal pronoun ‘I’ when applicable. That might be associated with any idea of egotism, in accord with the French saying, known as: ‘Le moi est haissable’ (The ego is detestable).
To help his disciples understand their relationship with God, Jesus used familiar images to convey his message of the gospel and teach them a religious lesson. In the gospel of last week, Jesus used the image of sheep and shepherd to explain the relationship between God and his people.
In today’s gospel, Jesus uses the image of the vine and its branches to convey a unity, or more precisely a communion between God and his people. Jesus compares himself to the vine, God the father to the vine grower and his disciples to the branches. Vine farming was not rare, but rather popular in Palestine. Before bringing the chosen people to the promised land, Moses sent men to explore the land of Canaan (Nm 13:2) and they brought back a branch with a heavy bunch of grapes on it (Nm 13:23). God’s people were frequently likened to a vineyard that he planted (Ps 5:7).
How can a Christian be united with Christ? The Christian united with Christ is not an external unity like joining a certain organization or a society. The Christian is united with Christ through grace. Therefore, sin is an obstacle to God’s grace. In order to be united with Christ, the Christian must remain in God. To remain in God means to keep his Commandments as Saint John wrote in his first letter: Those who keep his commandments remain in his love (1Jn 3:24). Jesus promised those who would remain united with him would receive what they would ask for. To be united in his love means that his spirit must permeate every aspect of our life: our thoughts, words and deeds. In order to attain this, the faithful must purify their thoughts, feelings, desires and actions so that they may correspond and harmonize with the gospel values. To be united with Christ means to share in his being rejected and opposed, his suffering, death and resurrection.
In today’s gospel, Jesus said: Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit (Jn 15:5). To explain this unity, Saint Paul refers to an example of the human body. Although made up of many parts, the body forms a single unit. Saint Paul saw a unity in the human body similar to the unity in the mystical Body of Christ in the Church. In this mystical Body of Christ, Christ is the head, and the faithful are members. Saint Paul understood this theological notion of the mystical Body of Christ more than anybody else did because he had a personal experience of it.
On the road to Damascus to persecute Christians, Paul heard a voice saying: Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me (Acts 9:4). Actually, Paul only persecuted Christians, not the one who uttered that voice. Later on, with prayers and meditation and by the grace of God, Paul understood how to persecute Christians was to persecute Christ because Christians were members of the mystical Body of Christ.
To use the words in today’s gospel, Christians are the branches and Christ is the vine. The vine consists of many branches united together, forming one single unit, because they share the same sap from the roots. If not united, the branches will not have sap from the roots. As the branches have to be united to the vine as to bear fruits, the Christians have to be united with Christ through grace as to bear spiritual fruits.
The branches that are attached to the vine, do not bear fruit are cases when we are only nominal Christians, when we practice our faith in a mechanical way and in a routine fashion. When our lives are full of sin, injustice, then how can we bear spiritual fruits? We could be born Catholics, baptized as infants. However, if our faith life is so sluggish, how can we bear spiritual fruits? We can join this Catholic organization or that Catholic movement. However, if our membership is only nominal, how can we bear fruits?
For the vine to bear more fruits, the farmer has to pesticide bugs and insects lest they do harm to the vines and grapes. He also needs to prune away barren branches so that more sap can flow into the fruitful ones. These branches were also propped up with forked sticks so that bunches of grapes could get air and sunlight and thus could produce even more fruits. In a similar way, to be more fruitful, we need to trim away sin and vices from our life so that the grace of God may permeate every aspect of life and thus would yield fruits that are even more spiritual.
Prayer for being united to God:
Oh Lord, my God!
As a branch is united to the vine,
you want us to be united with you.
May I remain united with you
by avoiding sin and obeying your Commandments
as to remain in your grace
and to bear spiritual fruit in our lives. Amen.
John Tran Binh Trong