The Vine and the Branches
In his beautiful homily for 5th Sunday of Easter, Year B, Father Hanly tells us it is our turn to walk the way Jesus walked, to care the way he cared, to love the way he loved, and this is the way that the Kingdom of God shall gradually take over the whole world.
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
Today’s Gospel, as you know, is the Vine and the Branches, and Jesus explains to his disciples that he is the vine, and we are the branches, and his Father is the caretaker, the gardener, the dresser of the vineyard.
If you noticed last week, Jesus spoke that he was the Good Shepherd, that he names us and calls us by name, that he comes to lead us into green pastures, that he will always be with us, that he will never abandon us, that he will see to all the things that cause us pain. When we call upon him, he will heal us, and he will be near us, and he will never abandon us.
And these are very encouraging words, but we must think “What is Jesus doing with these two parables?” One is the Good Shepherd and the other one is the Vine.
It’s the context that adds a certain kind of drama to his meaning. For these are the words at the end of the Last Supper.
He has washed their feet. He has told them how much he loves them. He has told them they must learn to wash each other’s feet, that they must learn to be givers and not takers, that they have been chosen to bring the message that he came, to bring it to the whole world.
He came with a message of compassion and forgiveness, of self-sacrifice, of caring, of building a community on the love of God and the love of each other. And these were very important lessons.
And now he comes to the end of the supper. And that is what adds a certain kind of sharpness to “I am the vine and you are the branches.”
Because a shepherd is one step removed from us. He is one who guides us, who walks beside us. It’s a lovely warm image.
But when he says, “I am the vine and you are the branches,” he means, “I am with you, and you are with me, and there’s no separation. The life of God is with you. The presence of God is with you. And you will not understand this now.”
But in a few moments he will walk out into Gethsemane and the Passion will begin. And these will be the last words that Jesus says to them in the way that he has been with them, because, when he leaves Gethsemane, the next time they will see him is on a cross, and they will bury him, and then, of course, will come the Resurrection.
So the words he speaks to them, and he is speaking to all of us, is very plain.
That the Risen Lord will be with us, will be part of us. He will live with us. He will be with us all through our lives. He will never desert us. Because he has made a relationship with us that is full of intimacy. There is no separating him and ourselves.
This is not just a relationship of brothers and sisters. This is a relationship of life itself. For the God that has sent him is with him. And he has made us one with the Father and one with the Spirit.
And that is why it’s so important to him that they know this, because, in a few hours, they will all deny him and run away and be scattered. And he wants them to remember what he said while they were sitting eating the Last Supper with him, when he was sharing his whole life.
It is very important, then, that when he says to us “I am the vine and you are the branches,” what it really means is that we, as Christians, do not just walk with him. He is within us, in each other, in our community, in those outside our community. Because he has become, through his own incarnation he has become incarnate in every human being.
And that means that, when we look at each other, we must look at each other the way he is. When we treat each other, we must treat each other the way we are, not just solitary individuals being nice to each other. We are people who are filled with the life of God in an intimacy that will last for all eternity.
And this is why today Jesus says to them, “You cannot separate the vine from the branches. You cannot separate the branches from the vine.”
And this is the great mystery, because he is saying, “You are dependent upon me, but also God Himself has made Himself dependent on us.”
For the vine there are the branches, and the branches bear fruit, and the fruit is the fruit of the Kingdom, and the work of the Kingdom is what he came for.
But the work of the Kingdom is given to us, for we will walk and talk, we will forgive and care or not care, we will be the ones that carry the message of Jesus.
He will be with us, but it is our turn to walk the way he walked, to care the way he cared, to love the way he loved.
And this is the way, this is the way that the Kingdom of God shall gradually take over the whole world.
I remember, many years ago, I got a postcard from my father. He was in the United States and the postcard said, “After a lovely journey, I have arrived home.” The postcard came from Ireland, because he finally talked my sister into allowing him to go home to Ireland.
We knew that he was going to pass away. We knew that the doctors had said it would be risky. And yet, because he always respected our choices, we respected his.
And this was on the postcard written in his own hand. “After a lovely journey, I have come home.” And the last two words were, ‘Be good.”
The next message was a message that he was dying in the hospital. And I went there, but we could not speak very well to each other. And then he died in my arms.
And I still hold on to that postcard, because it was more than just him telling me he had gone home, for now he did go home and he was at home, he was at the home that God intended him to be.
It was more than that. His message, which it always was: “Be good.”
And I knew what he meant.
No matter what happens, no matter what the difficulties are in your life, what the difficulties are around you, you must answer the difficulties with goodness, kindness, forgiveness and faith. Faith in yourself, faith in other human beings, and faith in God.
And this is what Jesus is saying to us.
These words were given to us when we enter crisis. They were the danger times. The church would suffer three hundred years of persecution.
So these words were meant to be the response to fear, to be the response of running away, to be the response of perhaps despairing as Judas despaired when things got too difficult.
These are the crisis times and these are the times when we turn to these words and know that he is with us, he is one with us, and we are one with him and his Father.
And this, no matter what happens in these difficult periods, we must always remember, “Be good.”
Be kind, be thoughtful, be caring, be the things that the Kingdom belongs to.
And then indeed we will understand when he says, “I send you out with the message of forgiveness and love, that you might change the world.”