April 30, 2021

Christ the Cornerstone

Christ is the vine, and we are the branches

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches.Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:4-5).

The Gospel reading for the Fifth Sunday of Easter (Jn 15:1-8) offers us the familiar, but quite powerful, image of the vine and the branches.

This image was particularly familiar to the people of Jesus’ time because they were closer to the process of growing grapes and making wine than most of us are. Still, we understand what Jesus is telling us. We are all connected, receiving life from the same source.

One of the greatest and most dangerous myths of our time is the idea that we are all self-reliant individuals who have the ability to sustain ourselves by our own effort.

The Gospel image of the vine and the branches flatly contradicts this notion. “Without me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5), Jesus says. Not only are we not very successful as rugged individualists, we are utter failures. The poet John Donne expressed this truth quite eloquently when he wrote:

No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Anyone else’s death diminishes us because we are all one, members of the one Body of Christ, intimately related both to him and to each other.

The first reading for this Sunday (Acts 9:26-31) makes a similar point. At first, the disciples in Jerusalem were suspicious of this newcomer, Saul (later Paul). After all, he had persecuted Christians and was heard to utter “murderous threats” against them. Barnabas and several others came to his defense, but the point is that the great missionary and evangelist

St. Paul didn’t do it alone. He relied on his Lord, first and foremost, but also on his brothers and sisters in the one family of Christ. As we will read in the Acts of the Apostles this Sunday:

“[Saul] moved about freely with them in Jerusalem, and spoke out boldly in the name of the Lord. He also spoke and debated with the Hellenists, but they tried to kill him. And when the brothers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him on his way to Tarsus” (Acts 9:28-30).

Like Barnabas and the other Christians in Jerusalem, we are called to be missionary disciples, branches intimately connected to the vine that is Christ. We are responsible for one another.

The second reading for this Sunday (1 Jn 3:18-24) tells us what is expected of us as branches connected to the vine that is Christ. We must “believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us” (1 Jn 3:23). Faith and love are the two signs that we are healthy branches capable of producing much good fruit.

As our Lord makes clear in today’s Gospel reading, it’s essential that we remain faithful to our calling and be fruitful in good works. Otherwise, we become like dry, withered branches that are only good for use as firewood.

“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).

The good news, of course, is the Lord’s assurance that his Father is glorified whenever we remain connected to Jesus, and to the other branches on our vine. God the Father has promised that whatever we ask for in Jesus’ name will be given to us.

As we continue this season of Easter joy, let’s remember who we are—individuals, certainly, but never “islands unto ourselves.” We are not meant to be isolated from each other or from God.

Let’s pray for the wisdom and courage to let go of our individualist tendencies and to embrace the community of faith and love that is our inheritance as children of God and missionary disciples of Jesus Christ. †

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