Sunday 2nd May 2021. Read Acts 9:26-31, Psalm 22, 1st John 3:18-24 and John 15:1-8
“I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
Last Sunday, we celebrated our Lord Jesus Christ as our Good Shepherd, the one who lays down his life for us, his sheep. Today, Jesus goes even further to describe himself as the Vine that sustains us (the branches). There are so many lessons contained in today’s readings:
1. Without Jesus, we are Nothing.
Just as branches die off when cut from the tree, without Jesus, we are nothing. Jesus says: “Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” (John 15:6). Without a healthy spirituality, without a solid relationship with Jesus, everything falls apart in our lives.
We cannot be successful in anything without Jesus, be it in business, in marriage, in school, in pastoral ministry, just name it. Without Jesus, we are like dry grass. I often hear people say things like “who prayer help?” as if to say religion is a waste of time, as if to say coming to church is useless. Today, Jesus makes it clear to us that if we ignore Him, we can never find success.
This is why we sing: “You take the whole world and give me Jesus, you take the whole world and give me Jesus, you take the whole world and give me Jesus, am satisfied, am satisfied.” To have Jesus is to have everything. This takes us to the next lesson.
2. The Secret to Answered Prayers is abiding in the Word
Jesus says: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7). My brother, how often do you read the word of God and allow those words sink within you? My sister, when last did you try to meditate on God’s Words? No wonder, God said to Joshua:
“This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful. (Joshua 1:8).
It is not simply enough that we pray. Let us begin to include reading of the word of God in our daily prayers. You may say: “I already know the Bible, I know everything contained there or I have read it from cover to cover.” It is just like saying, “I don’t need to eat food since I know how it tastes already.” Something happens when we read the word of God: spiritual renewal and reconnection with God. Like a branch, we receive strength from Jesus the vine when we read the Bible.
3. To Abide in Jesus is to Love Your Neighbour as Yourself.
St. John would say: Whoever says, “I am in the light,” while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. … Whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness.” (1 John 2:9-11).
In another passage he says: “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us.” (1 John 4:12-13) This is very instructive. The only way we as branches can claim to be connected to Jesus the Vine is when there is love in our hearts for others.
When we hate or rather, when we refuse to forgive, we are not connected to Christ. We may be active in church or even hold positions of authority but with bitterness in our hearts, we are merely deceiving ourselves. St. John teaches us: “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” (1 John 4:20)
In our first reading, we see that the disciples almost put an end to Paul’s missionary enterprise by their poor reception, they were afraid of him, they couldn’t stop thinking of Paul’s former life. Thanks to Barnabas who spoke on his behalf in Christian charity. Forgiveness is the litmus test for the true Christian.
Now, loving others goes beyond forgiveness, it is practically coming to their aid when they are in need. In our Second Reading today, St. John begins with: “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but IN TRUTH AND ACTION. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him.” (1 John 3:18-19). Action speaks louder than words.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus teaches us that it is not enough for us to feel pity for others, we must do something! Saying sorry is useless if you are not going to help. It is sad that today everyone with a smartphone has become a journalist. We see someone dying, crying for help and all we do is to bring out our phones and start recording. It is so annoying and unchristian.
4. To Abide in Jesus is to Believe and Obey His Commandments.
In our Second reading John tells us: “This is his commandment that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them.” (1 John 3:23-24). We cannot be swimming in sin and still believe that we are abiding in God.
As Adam and Eve hid from God’s presence in the Garden of Eden after they had eaten from the forbidden tree, sin makes us hide from God. Sin destroys our prayer life; sin pulls us away from the light, takes away our happiness and leaves us empty. St. John says: “if our hearts do not condemn us; we have confidence before God…because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.” (1st John 3:21-22). Sin takes away that confidence we should have before God, it is the knife that cuts us (the branches) away from Jesus (the Vine).
Conclusion: Am I still connected with Jesus?
In the end, this is a question that no one can answer for us. As the saying goes: “all lizards have their bellies on the ground, no one knows which has a running stomach.” We come to church but the truth is that some of us have become like try branches; our relationship with Jesus is long dead. Today, is another day, God is giving you a second chance to reconnect again. If Paul could become a preacher, who says you, despite your past cannot do the same?
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, bring me back to you. Cut off from me everything and anything that takes me away from you. Cleanse my heart and renew my spirit that I may reawaken my love for your Word. Wash me from all taint of bitterness, malice and hatred. Amen.