5th May 2021
Acts 15: 1-6;
Ps 122: 1-2, 3-4ab, 4cd-5;
Jn 15: 1-8
God gives growth to those who seek to be atoned. This atonement may involve letting go of the old, and being attached more fully to what is life-giving. The First Reading presents the struggle of the early church in trying to incorporate Gentiles into the Way (the name given to the early church). The struggle involves whether the non-Jewish believers have to fully accept all of the old practices of Judaism or whether they can be just grafted onto that which (Who) gives life and thus produce a fruitful product of, and for, GOD. In the passage from the Acts of the Apostles, Paul and Barnabas meet opposition when they return from their first missionary journey. Some of the members of the church in Antioch (the community which had sent Paul on his journey) push for the full practice of Judaism by the Gentiles who have become believers in Jesus.
As the dispute arises, the faith community of Antioch sends Paul and Barnabas, and others to the Christian leaders in Jerusalem. It is exciting to hear, as Paul and Barnabas traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria and they share how the Gentiles have accepted the Good News, the believers in those areas rejoice in the good fruit which is being produced among the Gentiles. The dispute, which concerns whether the Gentiles need to fully practice Judaism, continues in Jerusalem as we will hear in the days to come. Jesus, in the fifteenth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, speaks about His being the true Vine Who gives life to the branches.
Jesus’ Abba‐Father is the Vine Dresser Who prunes the productive branches and removes the lifeless branches. My reflection today comes from a sense of our being made in the image and likeness of the creative GOD. We know that from the beginning (Genesis), GOD is creative – producing life. GOD spends “divine time” making light, the world, and living creatures. In John 15, Jesus portrays His Father as the Divine Vine Dresser. The job of the vinedresser is to prune productive branches so they will bear more fruit and to cut away that which will not produce any fruit, but rob the fruitful parts of branches from the much‐needed nutrients. After the vine dresser has completed this work, the growth and production of fruit depend upon the branches staying in contact with the vine. This pruning of the branches is not meant to be restrictive or punitive, but to be life‐giving.
We are the branches. We are called to bear fruit. We cannot bear much fruit unless we are pruned in order to bear a fuller growth and produce abundant fruit. We need some of our old self cutaways and renewed so we can receive more nourishment from the Vine and produce the richest harvest possible. We also should rejoice as other branches are grafted on to the Vine and begin to receive nourishment from the True Vine and produce Good fruit. It is truly a joy to see other branches being grafted on to the Vine as people come to know the Lord Jesus and accept what He offers to them. These new branches begin to receive the flow of life from the bonding with Jesus, the Vine.
Once we receive the flow of life from the Vine (Jesus), what kind of fruit will we bear? We must do our best; we must work to our fullest potential. If we do that, others will benefit from our fruit. They will be blessed by the fruit of the Vine. It is interesting when we speak about the product which comes from the growth, we speak about the “fruit of the Vine,” not the “fruit of the branches.” The fruit we bear is truly the work of the Vine and the Vine Dresser, not the product of the branches – us. We, the branches, must be the best vehicles for the life of the Vine to flow through us to produce the fruit. Yet the real source of growth comes from the Vine and the work of the Vine Dresser.
As I think about this, I see a connection to what is happening in our world because of the current pandemic. The crisis should cause us to ponder which aspects of our lives are really not bearing Good growth. I am not saying that those who are inflicted by the COVID‐19 virus (in any of its strains) are evil, or unfruitful. I am saying what attitudes and actions in my personal life need to be pruned out so that I can bear more fruit. All of us have activities and attitudes in our lives which do not promote positive growth. Those need to be removed so we can be more fruitful in our living out the Good News of Jesus.