HOMILY EASTER SEASON WEEK 05 03 – Year I
The True Vine and Fruitful Branches
(Acts 15:1-6; Ps 122; Jn 15:1-8)
When I began my strawberry patch, I bought two kinds of strawberry plants with some berries on them and planted them with great expectation. The berries that were on the plants grew, matured, were enjoyed – and then nothing. Not one other berry showed up all summer, to my great disappointment.
Perhaps Jesus had these strawberries in mind when he states in today’s gospel, “My Father is glorified when we bear much fruit and become his disciples.” So that is the message from today’s liturgy: be disciples that bear much fruit through prayer and love.
A disciple is someone who follows and strives to be a carbon copy of a master or rabbi. They try to imitate how the master speaks, behaves, even thinks – to become as alike the master as humanly possible. That is our task – to imitate Jesus as best we can. The Greek word for disciple is “mathetes” which has the connotation of being a life-long learner, one who constantly studies how to be like the master.
The prayer dimension of discipleship flows from the image of a vine that Jesus uses, and the words he mentions repeatedly – “abide in me.” The Father is the vine-grower, Jesus is the true vine, the Holy Spirit is the sap flowing through the vine to the branches, we are the branches, the ground we are planted in is Christian fellowship, our roots are prayer, and the rain and sun are God’s love. The love of God experienced through prayer and fellowship is the photosynthesis pruning us and transforming us into disciples.
It is impossible to exaggerate the love the Father as the vinedresser has for Jesus, and Jesus as the true vine for the Father. Jesus was blessed by the Father three times in the scriptures – at his baptism, at the transfiguration, and just before his death. Jesus was so secure in the Father’s love for him he was able to say “no” to the three temptations (and over-attachment to possessions, prestige and power) that he faced in the desert and that Israel always fell for. He was so secure in the Father’s love for him he could take off his outer robes signifying authority, status and power, and wash the feet of the disciples, the task of a slave. And he was so secure in the Father’s love that he was given the experience of the “apparent absence” of God on the cross – the ultimate test and the last temptation – and remained faithful to his mission to reveal the depth of the Father’s love for us.
When Jesus speaks of himself as the true vine, he uses here, for the last time in the gospel of John, the same words God used to inform Moses of who God was – “Ego eimi”, “I Am who I Am.” That is Jesus’ way of affirming he was truly the Son of God, one with the Father, as the true vine.
We abide in Jesus, and cling to him, especially by two kinds of prayer. One is the prayer of the “Anawim,” a Hebrew word meaning the poor country people who know they need God, who have no pretensions. Because we cannot live even one day the way God wants us to live it, joyous and free, on our own power, we need to turn to God to receive God’s help the first thing in the morning.
That is the lesson Peter learned walking on the water. Once Jesus lifted him up and saved him from drowning, he did not try it on his own again, but hung on to Jesus and together they walked back to the boat. That is how we must begin our day – connecting with Jesus, praying for his Spirit, and walking with him throughout the day, one day at a time.
“Lectio Divina” is another ancient way of praying that is truly abiding in Jesus. There are actually five stages to this prayer: “lectio,” or reading a passage of scripture slowly and prayerfully; “meditatio,” or meditating on that word and asking one’s self what is God saying to me through that word; “oratio,” or praying with those words for the needs of the world; “contemplatio,” or contemplation, just being in God’s presence and soaking up God’s love.
The last stage of Lectio Divina some add is “operatio,” or activity. We resolve to put into practice some virtue or action that surfaced in our consciousness as we prayed. One possible activity is to journal our experience of prayer.
According to Jesus, God our Father and the gardener, has to prune us to help us bear fruit, as a plant needs pruning. We have been pruned already by means of the Word of God, he tells us. Contemplation is one of the best ways we can open ourselves up to the pruning of God that comes to us as forgiveness of our sins and healing of our painful emotions, negative attitudes, and even our addictions.
Another way pruning happens is through humble self-awareness and fellowship that can help us see ourselves as others see us. We can’t heal what we don’t acknowledge, so self-knowledge is another way God prunes and transforms us. Fellowship means we do not grow alone – we grow best with others. There is a saying, “Christians are like bananas, they grow in bunches.” Our need to belong and to be loved is best met in sharing and working with others.
Self-awareness means that we are aware of who we are – our qualities and our weaknesses, our potential and our fears, our sin, sinfulness, painful emotions, defects of character and even addictions – that we are honest, and can name them, claim them, not blame them, tame them, and we can aim them.
That happens best in quiet, contemplative prayer. It is then that the spirit of the living God can penetrate between the bone and the marrow, beneath our subconscious, and bring about healing of areas in our lives that we might be only dimly aware.
Through all of this, the goal is that we bear the fruit of love as forgiveness of others especially, and caring and sharing. Those are the names of the two girlfriends that a priest or bishop can have – Karen and Sharon! We can dare to trust and share our emotions and lives with others more intimately, and also, like St. Mother Theresa of India or Dorothy Day in New York, go out of our way to answer the needs of the poor around us.
The Eucharist is our greatest prayer that also prunes and nourishes us, as we experience God’s love through word, sacrament and fellowship.
May our celebration today empower us to be disciples of Jesus who will bear much fruit through intimate prayer and selfless love.