4.29.18. Sun. 5th. wk of Easter – B
Acts of the Apostles 9: 26 – 31
First Letter of St. John 3: 18 – 24
Gospel of John: 15 : 1 – 8 Please refer to your own Bible for the Scripture readings.
Homily: Fr. Mike Murphy Unity with God
In last week’s Gospel †Jesus spoke of the ‘Unity’ shared between He and His disciples and †Jesus emphasized His unity using the image of the ‘Good Shepherd’. His sheep hear His voice and follow Him. This week the Gospel passage continues the theme of ‘Unity’ through another image, the image of ‘The Vine and the Branches’.
Now there are two types of stems on a grape vine. One is the brown, thick woody stalk. It runs from the root in the ground upwards along the trellis; it is very sturdy. If cared for properly, the stalk can last for over 100 years. The other stem is the green stalk. It shoots out from the thick woody vine and bears fruit. If these vines are cared for – they can last for a couple of growing seasons; then they have to be trimmed all the way back to the brown thick woody stalk. The green vines, or branches, if they don’t get much sun, won’t bear fruit and that’s when the vinedresser comes and trims off the unfruitful vines – so they will not consume the nutrients from the ground. When these unfruitful branches are trimmed, the nutrients are then available to the branches bearing much fruit. That’s what †Jesus understood when He used this image in this parable. †Jesus uses this image to speak of our relationship with Him. †Jesus is that sturdy perennial vine; fully grounded from which the branches sprout – who are us. Now some do not form a strong connection with the Lord. They use up nutrients that fail to produce fruit, and †Jesus says: “These are the branches that will be cut from the vine”.
†Jesus used this image to speak about our relationship with Him. †Jesus is that sturdy, perennial vine from which sprouts the branches – US! Some do not form a strong connection. They use up nutrients but fail to produce fruit. These are cut from the vine. In the Gospel, †Jesus said to His disciples: “Remain in me as I remain in you” (Jn.15:4). When He said, this during the Last Supper, one of the twelve, we know, would not “remain in Him”. When †Jesus said this – He knew that. There is only one way we can bear fruit that will last until eternal life. †Jesus said: “I am the vine – you are the branches; whoever remains in me and I in Him, will bear much fruit”.(Jn.15:5)
Our goal in life is unity with Christ and the journey to that destination is unity with one another – we are the ‘Body of Christ’. However, the evildoer wants nothing more than to divide us – not unite us. The devil is committed to fostering division among us. In his book: “The Devil You Don’t Know”, (Ave Maria Press, 2011) Fr. Louis Cameli, a priest from Chicago, describes the various tactics that the evildoer uses, not only to separate us from one another, but to separate us from God, as well.
One of those tactics is – ‘always looking for greener pastures’. “The promise of something better can move us away and separate us from those who truly deserve our loyal attachment.” (ibid. p.66) By not appreciating what we have – but always looking for something better – always looking for something more – leads to division. Adam and Eve were a perfect example. They were not satisfied! They had everything in the Garden of Paradise; God had given them everything but they wanted more – they wanted equality with God. The devil tempted them with this desire – and the result – division from God and from God’s will for them, which was to enjoy the fruits of the Garden for eternity. They chose not to have that. The temptation to look for something better, whether in marriages, our families, and our relationship with God will always lead to devastating division in our life. How do we resist this temptation? We live with gratitude to God for everything that He has blessed us with; faithfully trusting that the Lord will always give us what we need (not always what we want) but always what we need and then living in that ‘Spirit of Gratitude’.
Feelings of resentment also cause division. Maybe we hold contempt for another person. For instance, when Mary – the sister of Martha, poured expensive aromatic nard over †Jesus the week before His passion, Judas criticized her – saying: “It should have been sold and the money given to the poo”. Then – †Jesus called Judas out on that – saying: “No, she was doing the right thing, preparing my body for burial. And then †Jesus praised her for her act of kindness. I wonder – is it possible that Judas resented Mary – and resented †Jesus for taking her side? Now remember, this took place just days before Judas betrayed †Jesus. How much did his resentment lead him to the act of betrayal – separating him from †Jesus?
We seem to be addicted to resentment in this country. The divisions between us run deep in politics and among cultures. The ‘melting pot’ that has been ‘America’ – is more like a boxing ring – everyone is going to their own corner waiting for battle. There no longer is a ‘melting pot’ in America – resentment has divided us. For all the good that social media can accomplish, it is full of expressions of resentment and vitriol – whether it’s on Facebook or Twitter, or whatever it is – people are battling and demeaning one another. Hatred and resentment are signs of the evildoer – separating us from the law of love and from God – who is love.
In our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we read: “The early Church was at peace in Judea, Galilee and Samaria” (Acts 9:30f), because people were building one another up (they weren’t tearing them down). They were united in their love for God and love for one another. Resentment destroys unity!
Another tactic of division is greed; it divides us from God and from one another. Greed is to desire self-sufficiency – I want my own! It is a lie that there may not be enough for you and me and the result is a “them and us” mentality. In the first century Church – peace reigned because of their generosity toward one another. Barnabas, who is mentioned in our first reading (The Acts of the Apostles) was the one who sold his property and he laid the proceeds at the feet of the apostles to be used for the community; bringing the community together. (Now, I am not espousing redistribution of wealth.) But… greed and the lack of sharing the Lord’s blessings with one another – causes division among individuals, within families and communities – separating us from the Lord.
Another source of division is negative identification. It comes from thinking: “I am better than you”. It also comes from group-think: “we are better than them”. This mentality always results in factionalism. We saw this in the early Christian Community in Corinth – and Paul writes about this in his first Letter to the Corinthians. He says to them: “For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving according to human inclinations”? (1 Cor. 3:3) He wrote that because all the people had taken sides – some followed Paul, some followed Peter, and some followed Apollos, thinking one was a better teacher than the other. It was a “them and us mentality”, and Paul tells them: they are servants, God’s servants, and they must work together for the good of the Gospel”.
If we allow the evildoer to divide us through lack of contentment with God’s gifts, resentment, greed, or negative identification – we can expect to be pruned because we are wasting the graces that God has given us – those spiritual nutrients that are poured into us through the sacraments, through God’s love. The Lord may have to prune us a little bit in this life through penance and sacrifice in order to get us back on the right track so we can change our life and we can bear good fruit. But if we choose not to listen to the Lord and not to change, the final pruning – (and it is final) – divides us from God forever. That’s what †Jesus says in the Gospel today. He declared: “Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither”. (Jn. 15:6)
So how do we heal divisions between one another, in our families, in our community and with the Lord? There is no big secret to this. In fact it has been taught and preached since the first century. We heard it proclaimed in the first Letter of John today:
“Children, let us love not in word and speech, but in truth and deed. (1 Jn.3:18)
In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.