Fifth Sunday of Easter
John 15: 1-8
The Greek word parabole, parable, appears in the New Testament 50 times. It refers predominantly to the stories Jesus told which were at the heart of his teaching ministry. Parables have symbolic content with a profound spiritual application. In short, parables are simple stories that illustrate a moral or religious lesson. In parables it is good to note the distinction between truth and historical actuality. A story which is not historical can nonetheless convey truth. We see this in many of the parables. For example, the “Prodigal Son” may not have been a real person, but the point of the parable is still true:
God loves us much more than we can ever even imagine and is always ready to forgive us no matter what.
Today’s parable is that of the vine and the branches. The point of this parable is: We can do nothing unless we remain attached to the VINE (Jesus) and receive the life-giving sap (grace) from the vine. When the branch ceases to receive the sap from the vine, it will wither and die.
Jesus promised the disciples (and us) that he would always be present in the community of believers. In today’s parable, he tells the members of this community of believers that they will continue to be nourished by his presence. He tells them he will “remain” (often translated as “abide”) with them always and not just at the key moments of one’s life. Those who remain attached to the vine, those who abide in Jesus, will be nourished and have life. Those who do not remain on the vine will wither and die. The meaning of the pruning and burning in the parable is unclear. Jesus already told his disciples they were clean (13: 10), but the pruning could refer to those (like me and maybe you) with imperfect faith that needs progress.
One very important and practical message from this parable comes from Jesus’ words: Without me you can do nothing. It took me 44 years to discover the truth and importance of these words. I was not in charge of my life; I was not the “captain of my soul.” Doing things my way just didn’t cut it. Thanks to the good Lord, I finally came to realize this.
Lord Jesus, please give me the strength to always remain as close to you as I can get.
Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter
John 14: 21-26
“Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me.”
Today’s Gospel selection tells us that if we love Jesus we will hold his commandments in our hearts and follow them. In following Jesus’ commandments we find our morality. There can be no morality, therefore, without love, love of God and neighbor, as we are reminded by the Great Commandment. Morality is not really a legal thing, it is a love thing. It’s good to know this and reflect a bit on it because that’s where the present paradigm of the Church seems to find itself. We have left the legal paradigm and entered into the relational paradigm. We find our morality today more in relationships than in laws.
The relational paradigm stems from the Great Commandment: Loving God with our whole heart, mind and strength and our neighbor as ourselves. Our morality entails our searching out and getting rid of whatever it is in our lives that is blocking our progress in these relationships, e.g., gossip would be a block against our relationship with our neighbor. It would do us all good today to reflect on what is going on in my life that is blocking my relationship with God and my neighbor. What blocks do I find? List them. What can I do about realistically getting rid of them? These blocks are where we want to center our attention in our quest for holiness.
Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter
John 14: 27-31
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.”
In our Gospel chosen to be read today, Jesus gives his disciples (and that includes you and me) a precious and wonderful gift. He gives us his peace, a heavenly peace, if you will. He makes it very clear that this is not an earthly peace. Earthly peace means there is an absence of war or violence. The peace that Jesus gives goes much further than this. God’s peace, shalom, or wholeness, is a gift of the Spirit to take away our fears or our separation from God. It is kind of like the child in a crowd of people losing sight of his Mom or Dad. He is fearful until he spots them again and runs to join them and hold their hand. When we have this kind of peace, we need not be “troubled or afraid.”
The Lord’s peace is wholeness. When we have it, we are what we were made to be, what Jesus wants us to be and we do what he wants us to do. We are whole, complete, fulfilled. We are holy. We have no fears to tear us apart or troubles that will wound us.
Jesus, thank you for all the wonderful gifts you have given us and today we thank you particularly for your gift of peace.
Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter
John 15: 1-8
The Gospel reading selected for today is the same Gospel reading that was read on the Fifth Sunday of Easter, just a few days ago. In the various Gospels of Easter Time, Jesus tells the Christian community that he will always be with them. Time and time again he reassures us that he will never abandon us. The Good Shepherd truly cares for his flock. Today’s Gospel assures that same Christian community that they will continue to be sustained with the life and power of Jesus, the true vine. The word “remain,” as we saw before, is often translated “abide” and illustrates the mutual indwelling of Jesus in us not only at the key moments in our lives, but continuously. Those who remain joined to the vine are nourished; those who do not remain so joined wither and die.
Jesus, thank you so much for your constant presence and nourishment in our lives.
Thursday of the Fifth Week of Easter
Feast of St. Matthias, Apostle
After the Ascension of Jesus to the Father, the Apostles had to find a replacement in the college of Apostles for Judas. Having a twelfth Apostle was important to the Chosen People. There were, after all, twelve Tribes of Israel and if the new Israel was going to come from the Apostles, a twelfth was needed. The one to be elected had to have been a follower of Jesus from the beginning, from the time of the baptism of Jesus by John to his Ascension. The new Apostle had to be a witness of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and to the various teachings of Jesus during his time here on earth.
The choice was to be made between Matthias and Barnabas. Matthias was elected. This is the first time we hear of him in Scripture and the last. Clement of Alexandria, one of the early Fathers of the Church, says that Matthias like all the Apostles was chosen not for what he already was, but what Jesus foresaw he would become. And doesn’t Jesus choose us in the same way? We were chosen to be his disciples not because we are worthy but because we would become so. Let us reflect on whether or not we have an idea of what God wants us to become. This is a good thing to think about from time to time.
Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter
John 15: 12-17
“Love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel reading that if we want to truly love God we must also love our neighbor. We cannot say to God: I love you God and at the same time be harboring a huge resentment against our neighbor. We are called “friends” by Jesus in this Gospel and that means we are also to be friends with our neighbors. One of the things friends do without even thinking about it too much is to forgive one another for a hurt. If Jesus is our friend, he will forgive us our wrongs. And so he does. If we are Jesus’ friends, we will forgive those who do us any harm whatever.
Is there anyone I need to forgive today for some past hurt?
Saturday of the Fifth Week of Easter
John 15: 18-21
“Because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.”
Our Gospel chosen for today tells us that we belong to Jesus and not to the world, and just as the world rejected Jesus from time to time, so shall we be rejected for being followers of the ways of Jesus. This is the “persecution” we read about occasionally in the Scriptures. In Mt. 5: 10. we read, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us that if we are followers of Jesus we will be “offensive to the world.”
Our problem is that we do not like to “offend” others in this way. Let’s face it, we are all people-pleasers and sometimes rather than offend my neighbor by sticking up for the values of Jesus we approve something they have done against Jesus’ way by rationalizing it. We want to have our cake and eat it too. This happens more often than most of us would like to admit.
It was a big day in my life when I discovered the truth that not everyone in this world has to like Howard. It is OK if people do not like me. I don’t have to do all kinds of crazy things to make them like me. It doesn’t matter. I don’t like all of them so why should they all have to like me? It is OK to say “no” to someone: No, you can’t do such and such. No, that is not the right way to go. Good friendship can stand a bit of correction now and then and still endure very nicely. Sometimes people-pleasing has to give way to God-pleasing.