Letter from the Pastor

5TH SUNDAY OF EASTER

The Vine and the Branches

This weekend’s Word of God concerns the vitality of the Christian Community (the Church). The gospel uses an old imagery from the Prophet Isaiah, the vine (5:1-7). In Psalm 80:9-16, the vine refers to Israel, and God is the vine-grower.

In today’s gospel passage, Saint John, the evangelist, also sees God as the vine-grower. Jesus is the Vine and the followers of Jesus (disciples or members of the Christian Community), are the branches. The evangelist puts these words into the mouth of Jesus, who uses the imagery of the vine to talk about the web of interrelationships: First, between the vine and the vine-grower (Jesus and the Father). Second, between the branches and the vine-grower who prunes them (the disciples and the Father), and then, between the vine and its branches (Jesus and his disciples).

The main point of this gospel passage is the unqualified necessity for the disciples to remain in Jesus and Jesus in them. This intimate connection to Jesus guarantees the vitality of the Christian community. The imagery could not be more poignant. Just as a branch cannot grow and bear fruit by itself except to remain attached to the vine, so also the faith community cannot survive spiritually except to remain in Christ.

Just as a branch can be separated from the tree trunk, so is the possibility of a believer falling off or being separated from Christ. Jesus says that he is the true vine, that is, the source of life for all the branches (his disciples). Anyone who does not remain in him will be like a broken and withered branch, which will be useful only as firewood, ready to be burned. Simply put, if we are separated from Christ, our source of life, we shall die spiritually. Thus, remaining in Jesus is crucial to survival.

There are several ways in which we can remain in Christ, our true Vine and source of life. One of such ways in through the Church community. Christ is present in the assembly of his followers: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” he says (Matthew 18:20). Belonging to the community of Christ’s disciples and praying and celebrating Word and Sacraments together is spiritually nourishing. Otherwise, one withers and dies spiritually. It is very evident in the First Reading where Paul was brought into the Jerusalem Christian community by Barnabas. Paul was re-energized by the embrace of the community he once persecuted. He felt forgiven and empowered to proclaim Christ. The life of Christ is now transmitted to Paul in and through the community of Christ’s disciples. Paul’s experience can become anyone’s as well.

Saint John, in the Second Reading (1st John 3:18-24), also shows us how we can be sure that we remain in Jesus. He says we should keep God’s commandments and do what pleases him, namely, believing “in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ,” and loving one another not merely “in word or speech but in deed and truth.”  He added emphatically that “those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them….”

Today’s Word of God, thus, teaches us that, as believers, we do indeed need to remain in Jesus, and as prove that we believe in him and desirous of remaining in him, we must practically keep the commandments, especially the commandment of love. This message must be proclaimed loud and clear in our cities more than ever, especially these days when there is so much hate, and hate-related crimes are committed rampantly with impunity. It is only with the message of love that we can conquer hate and division. The joy of Christ’s resurrection that we celebrate during these Fifty Days of Easter will be experienced in full measure only when love is manifested in every aspect of our lives.

Fr. Seth