Apr. 28, 2018

Fifth Sunday of Easter, 2018

“REMAIN IN ME, AS I REMAIN IN YOU” (Jn.15:4)

Readings: 1st- Acts 9:26-31; 2nd- 1 Jn. 3:18-24; Gospel- Jn. 15:1-8

Jesus uses the metaphor of the vine to express his desire for us in the gospel of today; “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower”.  Again, he says, “I am the vine, you are the branches”. The vine grows branches, and the branches become part of the vine. The vine is sustained by food from the earth while the branches are sustained by food from the vine itself. Any branch that does not grow in the vine will not bear fruit, and will be cut out from the vine.

Importantly, the image of the vine was used in the Old Testament to capture the relationship between God and Israel. In what the prophet Isaiah called “The Vineyard Song”, he lamented the disappointment which the owner of the vineyard recorded from the vineyard he planted on a fertile hillside. He cleared it of stones, built a watchtower to protect it, and hewed out a winepress. But the vine failed to produce grapes. Having exhausted all efforts to cultivate the vineyard, the owner of the vineyard decided not to prune it anymore. The vineyard became overgrown with grass. The prophet cried out, “The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his cherished plant; He looked for judgment, but see bloodshed! For justice, but hark, the outcry!” (Is. 5:1-7). That means that the choice to either bear fruit or not belongs to us.

In the gospel, Christ calls our attention to the danger of disconnecting from the vine. First is that we lack pruning from the Father. We become weak and vulnerable. We lose life and fertility. We fail to bear fruit. He states, “Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned” (Jn.15:6).

On a positive note, remaining in the vine offers great advantages to the branch. Christ is the vine into whom and from whom we grow. To grow in him means to channel our efforts into him, recognize the need to go to him regularly. To grow from him means that we can only be sustained by his love through prayers and the sacraments. He is our source and our strength. He uses a strong verb to demonstrate validity of our relationship with him. The verb “remain” is a strong one. It also means, “abide, cling, dwell, endure, hold the fort, keep on”. Jesus is inviting us to abide in him, to cling to him, to dwell in him, to endure in him, to hold the fort with him, and to keep on being in him. Only in him can we bear fruits.

The second reading from Saint John seems as if it is the beginning of the discourse that is continued in the gospel. John writes about God’s commandments, and how our hearts respond to God’s invitation; “Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them, and the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit he gave us” (1 Jn.5:24). Then Christ says in the gospel, “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5). Every aspect of our lives must be connected to Jesus to bear the desired fruits.

John uses the image of the heart to express this relationship, “we belong to the truth and reassure our hearts before him in whatever our hearts condemn, for God is greater than our hearts and knows everything” (1 Jn.3:19-20). God’s love is shown in the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This Sacred Heart was pierced with a lance on the Cross for our sake. The Heart loves us, gives us life, heals us, and circulates in us the blood of eternal life. The Sacred Heart is greater than our own hearts. As disciples of Jesus, our hearts do two things: “believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us”. We must marry faith and love in our relationship with God. If we believe in God, then we must love as God loves since “God is love”.

When Jesus asks us to bear fruits, he is inviting us to bear fruits of faith which is love. The metaphor of the vine thus becomes clear when we follow Jesus’ words, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love” (Jn. 15:9). The invitation is to remain in Christ’s love to be his disciples. We cannot keep the faith box separate from the love box, else we lose the content of our faith. For instance, anyone who claims he believes in God and is violent or wicked cannot be a believer because no true believer in God perpetrates violence.

Jesus invites us to remain in him, to branch out to the world as extensions of his love. Faith can only be identified by its works of love. Faith is evident in the daily interactions we have with others. We carry God’s image everywhere- at work, at school, in business, at home, etc. We are like the person(s) at the front desk of an office. The front desk lady/man is the image of the organization. If that image isn’t cheerful, loving, receptive, those who come in and go out will identify that organization by an uncheerful face. The same applies to us. We all sit at God’s front desk. How we relate with others translates their understanding of God. We present to those we meet the image of Christ who is good, Christ who is light, Christ who is the way, truth and life, Christ who is the gate, the security, Christ who is trustworthy, and Christ who is kind. We must remain in Christ -Faith-, hence, bear the fruit of love. 

SPECIAL APPEAL TO COUPLES:

“Remain in me” is a special invitation to couples. It is a way of reminding you of the source of your sustenance in marriage. Your marriage cannot survive if it does not draw strength from Christ. Christ is explicit here, “Cut off from me, you can do nothing”; “Remain in me as I remain in you”. It is very clear.  Once couples start shrinking in their faith, they start shrinking in their love. As Fulton Sheen said, love one another as a gift from God, not as gods. That way, you find in her/him an irreplaceable gift that cannot expire. Always recognize that your love flows from the Vine whose branches you are. If you center on yourselves, you get frustrated, wear out and wither. If you concentrate on yourselves alone, then you expose yourselves to the tortures of self-centered ego. You become jealous. You become possessive. You become more of a receiver than a giver because your love is not refilled by Love itself. I urge you all to make Jesus the center and source of your love. Pray together as couple. Move to God together. Go along with your partner. Enjoy God’s love together, don’t stay back, and don’t pull the other backwards. God loves you together. That way, you will bear endless fruits. That way, you won’t contemplate divorce even when the challenges come in your marriage relationships.