The emphasis in the gospel passage is more on Jesus as the "true vine" than on God as the gardener. In the Hebrew scriptures, God the gardener was a popular image and so it would not be news to the disciples when Jesus described God in this way. The images of the vineyard, or vine were also familiar to them, for these were applied to Israel. Here Jesus is identifying himself with the vine and emphasizing that the life he has for us is coming from God. But he is not referring to some future time, when we will have intimate life with him. Rather, he uses the present tense to describe what is already true for his disciples; we already are in union with him and now we must do our best to remain in that union.
With Jesus as the vine, we don’t have to be born into some particular race, nationality or class of people to belong and be part of him. Anyone can belong to Jesus’ community and receive, through this vine, the life he gives us from God. Forget what the person looks like; how expensive their clothes; or where they were born. If they are grafted to the true vine their lives will show it, that’s all the proof of identity they will need. St. Paul, in today’s second reading, sums up what faithful membership in this community means: "We should believe in the name of God’s son, Jesus Christ and love one another just as he commanded us." We don’t wear special membership pins or badges in this new community. The sign that shows we belong and remain in the true vine, is that we love one another. Our love isn’t just for "our own"; we love those who are not even members. This love flows out to others from the community that is connected to Jesus, especially to the unloved and the excluded, because those were the ones Jesus particularly loved. Since we now have the vine’s life flowing in us, we will love as he loved.
John does not say that Jesus is the root, or the stump of the vine. If that were the case then, those branches closest to the stump/root would be closest to the source of life. They would have a privileged place, could claim this priority and even try to regulate the flow of the divine life to the other branches. Those closest would hold the ranking of "first class disciples", then there would be "second class", "third class" ranked disciples. At the end there would be the lowest and least dignified class. Jesus doesn’t call himself the root, or the stump, instead, the image he uses of himself is the "true vine". We, in turn, are the "branches" who are to bear "much fruit." Because we are connected to the vine, such fruitfulness is now possible and indeed, the responsibility of all connected to the vine. No one is denied the source of divine life; nor are any exempted from bearing "much fruit".
In John’s gospel, Jesus has said that he is the source of living water and is the bread that has come from heaven to give life. Now, in the intimate setting of the Last Supper, he tells his disciples that he is the vine. The Anchor Bible commentary points out that drinking water and eating bread were symbols for believing in Jesus. Since this was a discourse at the Supper, those early worshipers, hearing these words about the life-giving vine, could not help but think of the eucharistic cup, "fruit of the vine". In the earliest eucharistic liturgies, the following was said over the cup: "We thank you, Our Father, for the holy vine of David your servant, which you revealed to us through Jesus your servant." The only other passage where "bearing fruit" is mentioned in this gospel is in 12:4, which speaks of the seed needing to die to bear fruit. In today’s passage, Jesus speaks of those who remain in him and he in them as bearing much fruit. But we know from the gospel that bearing much fruit comes only through death. To stay attached and fruitful we must live committed lives. Love is the first fruit we are to bear; and Jesus has shown that love requires sacrifice and even death. At this Eucharist we celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ. The vine’s life flows into the branches enabling us to live his dying and rising from the dead in our daily lives. Merely being members of the community of Jesus’ followers is not enough. Our lives must reflect the life of the vine to which we belong and from which we continually receive the will and power to live the sacrificial love Jesus has shown us.
We hear in the Acts reading today that the disciples were reluctant to accept Paul. Afer all, what they previously knew of him was that he had persecuted the church. Barnabas comes to Paul’s defense and protests to the disciples that Paul had seen the Lord and had "spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus." Paul proceeds to do the same things in Jerusalem as he did elsewhere, he "spoke out boldly in the name of Jesus." He was living as one attached to the true vine. His life was transformed and he was "bearing much fruit". Such boldness would eventually cost him his life as it did for Jesus. You can tell Paul had the same life flowing in him that Jesus did; he was attached to the vine and, as Jesus predicted, Paul bore much fruit.
We are always in the need of further pruning. We will need to remain attached to the vine and allow that pruning to take place. In the process we will have to die to what prevents the life of Jesus to flow freely through us. What will be pruned away in this process? – prejudices, grudges and the unwillingness to forgive others, excesses and immoderate living and selfishness. Also needing pruning are the contentious arguments we get into over dogma, sects and ecclesiastical differences. There is no race, class or even church of people that can claim prerogative over Jesus, for his life flows into many diverse people and in very different ways.
The resurrection unleashed a life force into the world and it spreads like a vine, gently, often imperceptibly. But the vine’s life is insistent. It does not make an explosive sound when it arrives, like laser-guided missiles. When the sword was used to forcibly spread the reign of God, the consequential suffering mocked the One whose name was being promulgated. The cross emblazoned on a shield, a conquering flag, or a war plane, mocks the gentle true vine. Those are signs of dead branches that need pruning. Paul had waged persecution against, what he saw to be, the heretical Christian movement. Note in the first reading, he is called Saul – his old name, the name that caused early Christians to quake in fear. Using his former name is a subtle reminder by Luke that the very one who wanted to do away with the early church is now ready to spread word of it. He will spread this word not by force, but by his words and deeds of love in Jesus’ name. He met the Christ on the road to Damascus and now he is living a new life and direction, thanks both to that encounter and his staying connected to the true vine.
The food and drink for life is prepared for us today at our table. Come let us eat, let us drink so that the bread from heaven and the cup of the vine will strengthen our determination to remain in the true vine.
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Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.
--1 John 3:18
I had watched a video a few years back about the immigrants crossing our southern border. The narrator showed artifacts that were found along the trails that led into the U.S. Among the items were prayer books and rosary beads. It is easy to forget that many of our brothers and sisters making this harrowing journey are fellow Catholics. More recently, a Pawnee indigenous American shared on a webinar that the Pawnee that settled in Nebraska, originally came from Central America. As the seed keeper for her nation in Oklahoma, she, a non-Catholic, regularly prayed to St. Kateri Tekakwitha. My thoughts kept playing with the images of holy people on the move, looking for a better life for themselves and their families. As followers of Christ, we are all people on the move but we may not be having as many daunting challenges as immigrants and refugees today. That is why it is so important to promote the work of organizations such as USCCB Justice for Immigrants and/or refugee resettlement efforts through the USCRI. The love that the author of 1 John talks about is most perfectly expressed in action.
Justice for Immigrants’ primary objectives are: to educate the public, especially the Catholic community, including Catholic public officials, about Church teaching on migration and immigrants; to create political will for positive immigration reform; to enact legislative and administrative reforms based on the principles articulated by the bishops; and to organize Catholic networks to assist qualified immigrants obtain the benefits of reforms. To help with the Cathedral Justice for Immigrants team, contact Luisa Martin-Price, our coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org
USCRI-NC (United States Committee on Refugees and Immigrants NC Field Office) has been welcoming newcomers to the Triangle area since 2007. Immigrants and refugees in the Triangle are able to access a variety of direct services to support them in the initial resettlement period as well as for many years after their initial arrival. Here at HNOJ Cathedral we are forming a team with Our Lady of Lourdes parish members to welcome a refugee family in the coming weeks. If you would like to participate, contact: email@example.com
As the scripture above reminds us, while words are important, the lived expression of our words speaks a truth more strongly. Belief in Jesus is identified by our actions, our love for one another.
Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS, Director,
Office of Human Life, Dignity, and Justice Ministries
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
Jesus said, "I am the true vine and my Father is the vine grower.
He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit,
and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.
If God has any "pruning" to do so that we can become more fruitful disciples of Jesus, it can happen when we are attentive to the Word at our Eucharist. What we hear may help us realize how often we have missed or ignored God’s gracious outreach to us. Having heard that Word will keep us connected to Jesus the Vine and give us renewed energy and desire to bear fruit as his disciples.,
So we ask ourselves:
"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."
This is a particularly vulnerable time for state and federal prisoners. Conditions, even without the pandemic, are awful in our prisons. Imagine what it is like now with the virus spreading through the close and unhealthy prison settings. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of the inmates listed below to let them know we have not forgotten them. If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285
For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/
On this page you can sign "The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty." Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty: http://www.pfadp.org/
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