God Needs Us
In his homily for 5th Sunday of Easter, Year B, Father Hanly shows us that Jesus himself reveals the great mystery: if indeed we are in need of God, God also is in need of us.
Readings for Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B
- First Reading: Acts 9:26-31
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 22:26-27, 28, 30, 31-32
- Second Reading: First John 3:18-24
- Gospel: John 15:1-8
“I am the vine, you are the branches, the Father is the vine dresser.”
It almost makes you feel like you’re in a garden. And, indeed, you are in the garden of the Lord, in the garden that God has prepared for all of us. Not in the garden that comes when we pass away, but to see ourselves as that we’re here and now in the garden of the Lord.
Last week was Good Shepherd Sunday. I have a little statue on my desk in my office. It’s a little statue of Jesus, the Shepherd, carrying a lamb on his shoulders.
And I remember many, many, many years ago when I first saw this and the Brother in school explained to us that this was a replica of the Good Shepherd that was found many hundreds and hundreds of years ago in Jerusalem at a time of great persecution.
And while people were living in persecution in Jerusalem, it was even worse in Rome, because Rome had decided to destroy the new Christian peoples, and so they huddled in places like the catacombs.
And sure enough, many years later, they found, in the catacombs of Rome, another little statue. It was the very same statue and it was the statue of Jesus the Good Shepherd.
How precious we are in his sight that the Good Shepherd would leave everyone and everything behind just to go in search of the one poor sheep that was lost, put him on his shoulders, carry him home, show him to all his friends with great joy and happiness, having a party for this sheep who was really a no-account sheep, this was one who wandered away from the flock.
And yet all this fuss and all this love and the Shepherd himself, all by himself, putting the hundred sheep that were obedient in one place and going out in search of the lost sheep, this is a wonderful sign of what our Good Shepherd, God Himself, does for us.
It’s an image of his love for us that he would leave everybody behind, just in search that nothing terrible would happen to the one that is lost.
This is a very important symbol for people who follow Jesus.
Because we follow Jesus, not because he is the Son of God, not because he is a well-known preacher, not because he did wonderful things.
We follow him because we love him and we know that even when we wander away from him that he will track us down and bring us back.
And it is this love that makes the notion and the understanding of the Good Shepherd so important to each and every one of us.
He calls us by name. He carries us home to safety. He protects us from all harm. He binds up all wounds. He comforts all in distress, calms all fears, never leaves us, and, even when we sleep, he watches over us.
This indeed is the Good Shepherd.
That was last week.
This week, today, we see something even more startling, more precious.
When Jesus says, “I am the vine and you are the branches and my Father is the vine dresser,” this image emphasises the indwelling of God in all of us, the intimacy, the unity, the oneness, the inseparability, the communion of we with God Himself.
So close are we that if you took a vine and separated it from the branches, the branches could not exist, nor could the vine. Jesus himself reveals the great mystery: if indeed we are in need of God, God also is in need of us.
Think for a moment. It is not only we who need God, but it is God, in the mystery of God Himself, who cherishes us, who runs after us, almost like a silly man after a lost son who wandered away. God needs us even more than we need God.
I once was coming home with my mother and father in the car. And my mother, as you probably know if you know me well, she was a wonderful mother, devout Catholic.
But she didn’t like our parish priest and he’d delivered himself of another one of his sermons and she found it a little bit outrageous.
And so, going home in the car, she was driving, she complained about it and said, “Oh, but Father blah, blah, blah.”
And my father, who was a lovely man, smiled and winked at me, and we teased her a little bit about how come you love Jesus but you can’t love Father.
Finally, my father said to her, “Sarah Jane, I don’t know why you go to church at all.”
And she looked at him straight in the eye and she said, “I go for the bread.”
Great answer, and both of us were dumbstruck.
“I go for the bread.”
And she’s talking about the Eucharist.
And she’s talking about God who sends His only Son and the Son dies for us.
And he remains with us in what way?
The bread of life, the bread given to us.
We, and what have we done to deserve to become one with the bread of life, the Son of God, and to be brought in to the Trinity itself?
This great gesture is something that we pay tribute today, because indeed it is the intimacy, the oneness, the communion that keeps us closer, not only to Jesus who makes it possible, but to God Himself.
There’s another story I like, to show us, in a way, how important we are in this world.
It’s a story that is told about Jesus, who returns to heaven after he has risen from the dead and he goes back to his Father.
And he returns to heaven and there is an angel, Saint Michael, waiting at the gates, and he’s kind of confused.
He says, “What are you doing back here, Jesus? You’re supposed to be down there saving the world, making a whole new world possible. And here you are. What was it, only a couple of years and you’re back already?”
And Jesus says, “Well, I couldn’t do anything else, you see. What they did was they killed me. They put me on a cross and killed me! And here I am and I’m back now.
“But don’t worry, I have lots of disciples who are following me and they are going to take my place.”
And then Angel Michael says, “But Jesus, suppose they don’t want to take your place, suppose they don’t take your place, what other plans do you have for the human race?”
And Jesus says, “I’ve got no other plans. It’s all in their hands.”
It’s kind of a light way of looking at a very serious subject.
Jesus is here, Jesus is with us, but we are his hands, we are his feet, we are his eyes, we are his voice.
And we talk and reach out to each other in the simplest ways.
Yes, of course, it is Jesus putting into practice the plan of healing and saving the world.
At the same time, it is we who are given, when we open our eyes and our ears but most of all open our hearts and commit ourselves to this wonderful work.
God needs men, men and women.
This is a very strange sort of thing. This is the way God will save the world. He needs us. He needs us just as we need God. And that’s the way it is.
The meaning, of course, is that He not only needs us, but He loves us. And not only do we need Him, but we must learn to love Him and to love the children that He calls His own.
One element is missing when we think of our mutual dependence, our mutual need, our mutual respect for God: we need God’s love to become fully human in this world and God needs our help to become fully God in this world.
My father, before he left the United States, was told by my sisters that he shouldn’t try to go back to Ireland because he was so sick, but he was determined and he went back to Ireland.
And we both agreed that this was the right thing, because my father always gave me and my sisters our free choice when we decided important things for ourselves.
And he decided to go back.
And within a month — I was here — within a month I got a telephone call saying that my father was very sick. And so I took a plane and I went there and I went into the hospital.
And there he was, and he was sick. And I couldn’t talk to him and he couldn’t talk to me, but I held his hand, and I held him in my arms, and that’s how he died.
Then when I returned home, I found a postcard that he had sent to me.
And the postcard, I still have it on my desk, and his letter was, “Dear Denis, Arrived home after a great trip. Be good.”
That’s all he wrote. That’s all that he had to write, because he indeed had arrived home. He had arrived home to God’s world himself, and it was a great and lovely trip for him.
And I always remember people telling me I had to do great things in this life or make a name for myself or make the family proud.
All he said was, “Be good.”
And that is how this complex understanding of “I am the vine, you are the branches, your Father is the vine dresser” is.
He says to us, “Come home now and work together — and just be good.”