FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
“I am the vine, you are the branches…remain in me” Jn. 15, 5&7
Someone once said that “God is always choosing people to be himself in this world”: Moses, David, the great prophets, Peter, and most especially, Mary.
In our own day and age, we have the likes of Pope Francis and Mother Theresa and many others who have dedicated their lives publicly to making God “dwell among us.” Some of them are unknown to others, never mentioned in the media, but are people who have profoundly impacted your life and mine – God impacted, the kind that changes you, that makes you into a more spacious and generous and loving human being.
Our first reading today presents the story of one of the most important of these types of people in the whole history of Christianity: Saul of Tarsus, later to be known as St. Paul. Here is a man who underwent perhaps the most profound and dramatic transformation ever known. To this day, people speak of having a “Damascus experience.” Saul was a fervent Jew who wanted to do all he could to stop the growth of this small Jewish community that believed in a man named Jesus. In doing so, he became a persecutor and a murderer.
And yet, God chose him.
While on his way to Damascus to further his persecution commitment, the Lord spoke to him and revealed himself to him. From then on, as our first reading tells us, Paul “spoke out boldly in the name of the Lord.”
He was changed, transformed, radically altered.
So much so, in fact, that his writings became Sacred Scripture, a primary authority for our knowledge of God, and a primary instrument of God’s ongoing word to the Christian community. His is a voice of God speaking to us to this very day.
What Paul and Moses and the Jewish prophets and the great saints and the little saints and Jesus himself tell us is pretty much the same thing: your life is not about you; it’s not about becoming the center stage; it’s not about the idolization of your being. It’s about accepting the constant and gracious invitation to union with God, and to “remain” in him by accepting the fact that each of us in our own way is already chosen – chosen to say “yes” as Mary did, as Moses did, as the saints did, as Paul did.
The issue for us is: accepting that reality and remaining faithful to that acceptance.
The Gospel of John we heard today uses a special image to say the same thing: “I am the vine, you are the branches…remain in me.” We are that valued, that treasured, that much in union with God that we are called to abide in him, to live in and through him. That union will then create a fruitfulness that will allow us to “remain” in him by following his command to “love one another.”
This is a challenge that is so difficult at times that without that closeness to the divine, we won’t be able to “forgive 70 x 7,” to love our enemies, to throw our arms around the prodigals in our lives, to be the Good Samaritan, to wash the feet of one another, to feed the hungry, to open the eyes of the blind, to “speak out boldly in the name of Jesus,” or to reach out compassionately to the recent victims of the horrifying Nepal earthquake.
It’s all too hard, too difficult on our own.
Maybe we can do it for a while, but to “remain” in him we need a Vine of fruitfulness, a Resource greater than ourselves to make up for our self-doubts and our stinginess and our lack of graciousness. We can’t do it alone.
We need a way of seeing differently so that, if we give it a chance, every human experience can speak to us of God. And then we need a Vine that will provide us with the ability to name the divine graciousness and to abide there, to “remain” in him.
Here’s how one author put it:
“A child is born, and we exclaim, ‘Oh, my God.’
We forgive, although we will gain nothing by it, and we exclaim, ‘Oh, my God.’
We sacrifice for another and get no thanks, and we exclaim, ‘Oh, my God.’
We witness the courage of living by one’s convictions, and we exclaim, ‘Oh, my God.’
We are ambushed by awe in a mountain pass, and we exclaim, ‘Oh, my God.’
We feel whole when we fall in love, and we exclaim, ‘Oh, my God.’”
When we are connected to the divine, we can accept that each of us is chosen. But what’s even more exciting is that our God has given us the Vine that makes it possible for us to say “yes,” to accept the invitation, and to live out the graciousness of the One who has broken into our lives. With the Vine, we are able to “remain” in him.
We have been given a Vine, Jesus himself, in whom we can find the Extra-ordinary in what we commonly see as ordinary – a Vine that will help us re-name all these ordinary moments of our lives as God’s saving grace – and “remain” there.
We can be transformed. Just like Paul. Just like Mary. Just like Pope Francis. Just like so many others. It’s a matter of seeing with the eyes of faith and accepting that we are the branches of the Vine – and that we are now able to “remain” there.
“I am the vine, you are the branches…remain in me.”
Ted Wolgamot, Psy.D.