Fifth Sunday of Easter Sunday
April 29, 2018
First Reading: Acts 9:26-31
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 22: 26-27, 28, 30, 31-31
Second Reading: 1 John 3:18-24
Gospel: John 15: 1-8
Today’s Gospel is part of the larger conversation Jesus is having with his disciples at the last supper. He is talking with them in an intimate setting and expressing some of his hopes. Here we see the last of his “I Am” statements as he draws the image of himself as the vine, his followers as the branches, and God as the gardener with pruning shears in hand. Jesus is trying to encourage his followers to “remain in him” to stay connected and to bear fruit. The alternative would mean to be cut away.
“You are already pruned.” Jesus states this line as he draws a distinction between branches that are pruned to bear fruit and those that are cut away. “You are already pruned because of the word I spoke to you.” That phrase feels like a compliment and an expectation in the same moment. It reminds me of the chat I had with my son right before his first high school dance: “You know you have earned our trust to go out tonight, right? Continue to make good choices, buddy, and you’ll keep our trust and this privilege.” I think my son, along with the disciples were left wondering, “Did she say I was doing well, or did he say we needed pruning?” It is both a compliment and a challenge borne out of an intimate closeness that can see the potential as well as the possible stumbling blocks.
Pruning a vine is a regular occurrence. Being pruned doesn’t mean the work is finished; it means getting ready for the real work to begin. The skilled gardener knows the vine so well that they can tell what branches need to be cut away, what branches need to be pruned, and which ones need light and space for growing more fully. This is an invitation into an ongoing relationship to remain and bear fruit. The question of what exactly it means to bear fruit is part of the next chapters of John’s Gospel, but we hear it in the other readings for today, as well.
In the reading from Acts, we see how Saul (not yet renamed Paul) “spoke out boldly in the name of the Lord” and debated so much so that the Hellenists were trying to kill him. In the second reading, we hear John exhort the children of God to “love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.” John goes on to say that we keep God’s commandments by believing in Jesus Christ, and loving one another. This commandment to love is how we bear fruit.
So let’s go back and sit in that room at the Last Supper where Jesus is imploring his disciples to bear fruit. He starts out by promising that he is the vine and if we are connected to him, we will be pruned in order to bear fruit. He tells us we have been pruned by “the word that I spoke to you.” What does it mean to hear the word and be cut raw by it? Honestly, if we listen to the word of God in our lives, it might mean coming face to face with injustice and having the courage to speak boldly, or loving so much that to stand in solidarity risks our lives or our livelihood. What does it mean to hear God’s word and be made uncomfortable by it, to be stung by it, to be forced to lose some skin in the game? Being pruned is cutting away the waste, the gone astray parts, the sinful, sedentary, selfish pieces that get in the way of letting the light of Christ nourish and strengthen the whole vine around us. Yes, it is a compliment and a challenge. Jesus is telling us we have the potential to bear fruit, and challenging us to step up to the task, willing to shed ourselves of all that refuses to hear the word and live it.
It’s a good challenge to those of us who are committed and involved in our faith. We can sometimes allow ourselves to become complacent with the fruit we are bearing. But if we open ourselves up to really hearing the word of Christ anew each day, then we must always be willing to be pruned: to learn a little more, to risk a little more, to love a little more in order to bear better fruit.
“By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit.” It is one thing to hear the word and let it soak in. It is another to be pruned by that word and to choose to live up to the expectation it places upon us.
Greatness is expected of you: Now go and bear fruit.
Director of Field Education