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Fifth Sunday of Easter: Living boldly

Acts 9, 26-31; 1 John 3, 18-24; John 15, 1-8.

There was a time when the fabric of society and of the communities to which we belonged was likened to a living organism rather than to an  organisation where we are  unknown identities or numbers. In a living organism, we remain connected to each other in a mutual dependence which is not slavish but harmonious.

As things are now, we are becoming more and more alone together, disconnected, and many a time lacking points of reference that can provide guidance and direction. In this context even religion seems to be playing a role that publicly holds less and less ground. This may create the illusion that we are becoming more self-sufficient. But it is only an illusion.

Liturgically we are halfway through the Easter season, which should have a deeper meaning than just a ritual occurrence. For Christians, the time from Easter to Pentecost should serve to make us enter more deeply into a dimension of our being we may be tempted to ignore or forget. This is the time when we are invited to enter with more depth into the real meaning of Christ in our lives and grasp how he can really and positively weigh on our being both personally and as a society. The gospel imagery of the vine proposed today can be a powerful imagery that contrasts heavily and even remedies the painful reality of isolation.

The reading from Acts narrates how the early communities could not believe how Saul changed into a disciple from a persecutor. Barnabas put their minds at rest, showing how God is really able to change people’s minds and hearts. This is how the Spirit, with whom we have been anointed, works. It is the Spirit who makes things possible, who transforms hearts, who works miracles that impact on us and the world alike. The Spirit works indeed. We only need to have an eye for that.

The gospel highlights that we are all branches, and that alone we cannot bear fruit. We are not self-sufficient insofar as our salvation and healing are concerned. Shut in our loneliness, we risk becoming even more fragile. There is a source outside us, from where we receive light and energy, and on which we depend to have lasting harmony and joy in our lives.

The prophet Isaiah stands out as the one who in his song of the vine recalls the care and love of God who expected good grapes from his vineyard but instead only reaped wild grapes. Whereas in the Old Testament the vine always represented the people of Israel, in the gospel, John describes Jesus as the true vine which emanates the energy to keep us alive.

In Christian iconography, Christ is the mystical winepress. It shows him standing in a winepress where he becomes the grapes in the press. As John F.A. Sawyer writes in The Fifth Gospel: Isaiah in the History of Christianity, “according to this, Christ, the true vine, is imagined as the first cluster pressed in the winepress. In art, Christ is thus depicted as being crushed in the winepress, his blood flowing out into a chalice”.

This idea of Christ as both treader and the trodden wine connects marvellously with the imagery of the Good Shepherd who, as seen last Sunday, gives his life for the flock. Now the imagery of the vine and the branches takes us a step further, putting on us the weight of choosing whether we really want to live fully or just vegetate. The branch that bears no fruit is cut away and the branch that bears fruit is pruned to make it bear even more.

As disciples we cannot remain undecided, on the fence, compromised in the way we live and the choices we make. As vine branches we cannot be idle. Weakness and wrongdoing are tolerable features of our humanity. Idleness cuts us off from the source that keeps anointing the Spirit active in us. The world thirsts for the fruits of the Spirit that are exclusively mediated through faithful discipleship and bold living.

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