Fifth Sunday of Easter (B); April 29, 2018
Acts 9-26:41 Ps 22 1 Jn 3:18-24 Jn 15:1-8
Deacon Jim McFadden
Today’s Gospel shows us Jesus during the Last Supper, in the moment He knows that his death is close at hand. His ‘hour’ has come and this will be the last time that he will be with all of his disciples and he wants to impress upon them a fundamental truth: even when He is not with them physically, they will still be able to remain united in Him in a new way, and thus in and through Him bear much fruit. Everybody can be united in Jesus as we participate in His very being. We are part of His body: there is an organic relationship between Jesus and His disciples that does not obtain in any other religion.
If on the contrary, one should lose unity with Jesus, one would become sterile. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit unless it remains on the vine, we cannot live fruitful human lives unless we are in union with Jesus. Or, more dramatically, “Without me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5).
These statements run counter to our inclusive sensibilities, in which the great vice of our society is exclusivity; that’s why Catholics are often regarded with suspicion, if not disdain. So, when we stand behind these statements that “unless you remain in Jesus, you can do nothing” or “apart from Jesus you can have no life because Jesus is Life itself,” that strikes many as being insensitive and exclusive.
Is Jesus really saying that unless we are rooted in him, we can’t be saved or if we don’t dwell within him, then we are a useless branch only suitable for the fire. Put bluntly, He is saying that. But, to understand these radical statements, we have to put them into context.
Jesus is the power by which God makes and sustains the whole world. Hearken back to the Creation story: how did God create the world from nothing? He SPOKE His Word, which is the power that God makes and sustains the whole world. It means that anything that exists at all, exists in and through Him. We hear this in John’s Prologue: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…All things came to b e through Him and without Him nothing came to be” (Jn 1:1-3a). So, if Jesus wasn’t as John proclaims, then it would be exorbitant to make all these claims. But, if Jesus is the Word made Flesh, then we attest that we find our very being in Him.
The Logos, the Word of God, is that power through Whom we exist from moment to moment. As the Logos, the perfect self-reflective Thought of the Father, Jesus is the foundation of the order and structure of the universe. To convey this radical contingency on the Logos, Jesus uses the image of the vine and the branches: Just “as a branch cannot bear fruit cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine and you are the branches” (Jn 15:4-5).
With this image, Jesus teaches us how to abide in Him, to be united in Him, even though He is not physically present. Jesus is the vine, and through Him—like sap in the tree—the very love of God, the Holy Spirit is passed through the branches. That why we need to be united with Jesus. Cut off from the vine, we are not self-sufficient, but depend totally on the vine, in which the source of our life is found. Why? Because Jesus is LIFE itself: through Him everything comes into Being and is sustained in being. So, it is with Christians: we are grafted onto Jesus.
How does that happen? At Baptism we are initiated into Jesus’ very Body, the Church, through which we receive new life. Thanks to Holy Mother the Church, who nurtures us, we are able to remain in full communion with Jesus. We grow in intimacy with the Lord through prayer, listening and being docile to His Word, especially in the Gospels, and participating in the Sacraments, especially, the Eucharist and Reconciliation.
When we are united with Jesus, we will enjoy incredible blessings, the fruits of the Holy Spirit, which are—as St. Paul tells us—“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22). These are the blessings we receive when we remain united with Jesus; and therefore a Christian who is united in Him does so much good for neighbor because the Risen Christ is working in and through him. In fact, that is how one can recognize a true Christian: generosity—“They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love.” The fruits of this profound union with Jesus are wonderful: our whole person is transformed by the grace of the Spirit; we gradually become more and more like Jesus. We receive a new way of being; the life of Christ becomes our own: we are able to think like Him, to see the world through His eyes. We are able to love like Him, beginning with the poorest and those who suffer the most, as He did and love them with the Sacred Heart of Jesus. As we stay grafted onto Jesus, we will bear the fruits of goodness, of charity, and peace in our world. May we enthusiastically be living branches in the Church and witness our Faith in a consistent manner—consistent in our thoughts, words, and deeds—knowing that all of us, according to our particular vocation and ministries, participate in the one saving mission of Christ Jesus. Amen.