April 30, 2021

Fifth Sunday of Easter / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Acts of the Apostles, once again, furnishes the first reading for Mass in the season of Easter.

This weekend’s first reading is about St. Paul and St. Barnabas. In the story, Paul, who was converted on the road to Damascus and then spent much time learning about Jesus, attempts to join the Christian community in Jerusalem. The community fears him—and not without cause. After all, Paul had been a strident opponent of the Gospel and had persecuted Jerusalem’s Christians.

Understandably, these same Christians must have wondered what dark purpose lay beneath Paul’s wish to enter their community. Was he looking for ways to entrap Christians or to gather evidence to bring to the authorities in order to attack them?

Barnabas, already part of the community, spoke for Paul, urging Paul’s admission into the community. Eventually Paul was accepted.

Paul remained in Jerusalem, speaking boldly about Jesus wherever he went. Such fervor was not always appreciated among those not part of the Church. Some tried to kill him, but the Christians rescued him by taking him to Caesarea, the Roman capital of the region, a seaport on the Mediterranean located slightly north of modern Tel Aviv. There they put Paul on a ship bound for Tarsus.

Meanwhile, as Acts says, the Church in Palestine was growing, and its faith was deepening.

Also, once more this season, the First Epistle of St. John supplies the second reading.

As was the case in the readings for the past weekends, this passage is moving and compelling in its eloquence. It refers to its readers as “children” (1 Jn 3:18). This form of address is highly expressive. Believers, as all humans, are vulnerable, weak and limited. They are “children”—but God’s children. God will protect them from peril. Sin endangers them.

St. John’s glorious Gospel provides the last reading.

Last weekend, the Lord gave us the beautiful image of the Good Shepherd. He is our leader. He guides us away from danger.

This weekend, the image is no less telling and descriptive. Jesus is the vine. We believers are the branches. This image was as immediate in its message to the first hearers of these words as was the story of the Good Shepherd. The society in which Jesus lived was agrarian. Viticulture was popular. Everyone knew about vines, and everyone knew what vine growers did for a living.

Reflection

In last weekend’s Gospel, Jesus appeared as our guide and protector. In this weekend’s reading, the link between believers and Jesus is revealed. His life is within believers. He is bonded with believers. Without Christ, they can accomplish nothing. In Christ, they can live forever.

The key to this wonderful relationship is our grace-inspired willingness to love the Lord with the love that he first gave us, a love that is uncompromising, constant and complete.

Our love requires absolute trust and commitment.

Achieving this supreme level of love means recognizing the Lord and setting nothing above our desire to be disciples. Paul is a good model. After despising Jesus, he changed his heart completely and totally with the necessary help of God’s grace.

The image of the vine is useful. Branches die if cut from the vine. Christians die spiritually if cut from the vine, which is Christ. The tragedy in this case is that some willingly cut themselves away from the vine. The blade is sin.

To look again to Paul as a model, he indeed was converted. The process was not instantaneous. Elsewhere, Acts speaks of his intense study and reflection as he sought to learn about Jesus. For him, discipleship was no solitary experience. He wanted to be part of the Church.

Once converted, Paul wholeheartedly turned to Jesus.

A secondary lesson is about evangelization. Barnabas reached out to Paul to bring him into the community. †

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