April 27, 2018

Christ the Cornerstone

Christ is the vine, we are the branches, bearing fruit together

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither. People will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples”
(Jn 15: 6–8).

Imagery used in the Scripture readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter speaks of vineyards and the fruit that produces good wine. In St. John’s Gospel (Jn 15:1-8), Jesus tells us that he is the true vine and his 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” (Jn 15:2).

This is important information because this is no ordinary vineyard. Our Lord is speaking of the vine that is his body, and he tells us in no uncertain terms that we are the branches that are either thrown away to wither and be cast into a fire and burned, or that bear fruit and are pruned in order to be even more productive.

Christ is the vine, and we are the branches. If we remain true to God’s word, we can flourish and produce much fruit. If we refuse to listen to, or follow, God’s commandments, we wither and die. “Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine,” Jesus says, “so neither can you unless you remain in me” (Jn 15:4).

The second reading for the Fifth Sunday of Easter (1 Jn 3:18-24) tells us how to “remain in him,” that is, to remain a vital branch that belongs to a healthy and fruitful vine. “Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence in God and receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him” (1 Jn 3:21-22).

God’s commandments are simple but not easy: We must love God with our whole heart and soul and mind. And we must love one another as we love ourselves. Or, as St. John expresses this: “And his commandment is this: we should believe in the name of God’s son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us” (1 Jn 3:23).

But we are sinners who frequently fall short of the goal to love God and each other. That’s why we cling to the love and mercy of God, which restores us whenever we miss the mark because of our sin.

Remaining true to God’s word and to our calling as disciples of Jesus Christ requires ongoing confession of our sins and genuine acts of repentance. We must stand up again after falling and, with the help of God’s grace, continue on the road set out for us at the time of our baptism. This is the life story of all great saints—conversion experiences that are never once and for all, but are mixed with acceptance of God’s constant forgiveness. This should be our story as well.

The first reading for next Sunday (Acts 9:26–31) tells the immediate aftermath of St. Paul’s conversion from a hateful persecutor to a humble follower of Jesus. It tells us that Paul’s initial attempts to join the disciples were not successful because “they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple” (Acts 9:26). Paul did not give up. “He moved about freely with them in Jerusalem and spoke out boldly in the name of the Lord” (Acts 9:28). He even spoke and debated with non-Jews (Hellenists), “but they tried to kill him” (Acts 9:29).

In spite of everything, the early Church “was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord, and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit it grew in numbers” (Acts 9:31). Why? Because after the Lord’s resurrection and the disciples’ reception of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the Church kept the commandments and remained in Jesus as he remains with the Father.

These are readings that should give us much hope this Easter season. No matter how far we stray from the road that leads to union with Jesus Christ and the eternal life we are promised with him and with all the saints, the Holy Spirit is active among us always, redirecting us by God’s infinite love and mercy.

In the remaining weeks of this Easter season, let’s rejoice in the opportunities we have been given to believe in the name of God’s only Son, Jesus Christ. And let’s love one another just as our risen Lord has commanded us. †

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