Sunday, May 3, 2015

John 15:1-8: 5th Sunday of Easter

(Listen to this homily here).

         Our Gospel this weekend is from John 15:1-8.  Of all the Bible, the fifteenth chapter of John is one of my favorites.
            Jesus presents a key image in the parable of the vine and the branches.  Now I’m guessing none of you have a vine or vineyard…I was a little confused on what a vine compared to branches looks like, but it turns out it would be like the relationship between a trunk and branches on a tree.  So for northern Minnesotans, think about a tree and its trunk and branches.  They are connected.  A branch cannot exist without the trunk, though a trunk can exist without a particular branch.
            This morning I would like to walk through a few of the revolutionary teachings of Jesus in these eight verses of Scripture.
            The first point I would like to make is when Jesus says, “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.”  Note Jesus does not say, “Without me you can do most things,” or “Without me you can do some things.”  Nope…Jesus says, “Without me you can do nothing.”  Nothing.
            This is true.  God holds everything in existence.  Nothing could exist without God!  Everyone here, every breath we take, every beat of our heart, only occurs because God allows it.  For those of us who don’t worry where our next meal comes from, or about finding enough clean drinking water, or living in the comforts of the first world, we often think we are self-sustaining.  Without me you can do nothing.” 
            Next, soak in these three words: “Remain in me…”  Here we must remember that God is not some amorphous blob of energy in the sky.  He is not like the force in Star Wars.  He is not a watchmaker who created everything and then walked away to let things run their course.  He is personal—three Persons in fact—and we refer to God as He and Jesus as me.  Did you know that less than fifty percent of Catholics believe in a personal God?  I hope that is none of us!
Also, this statement is completely new to world religion.  The Greek or Roman gods—did they want humans to remain with them?  No!  They were in the sky only to be worshiped, obeyed or honored.  But for humans to be with them?  Absolutely not.  Or consider a modern example in Islam.  Muslims believe Allah is a master—humans are slaves.  Are slaves to remain with their master?  Nope—they are only to serve.
And then: “…as I remain in you…”?!  God wants to remain with us?!  Again, this is a completely novel idea.  To cite another example—consider the fact that the goal in Buddhism is to be completely annihilated to cosmic forces.  We are to cease in our own existence.  Do you see how Jesus’ claim is completely different than this religious philosophy?
One final point—Jesus shows that God is personal, that He wants us to be with Him and He wants to remain in us.  And this is not always comfortable.  Jesus wants to get in our face—literally (in the Eucharist!).  He shows the pruning is necessary for us to be a branch on the tree: “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.”  At every level, weeding and pruning is necessary.
Imagine, for instance, what our lives could be like without Netflix.  I admit, I could watch less TV!  Imagine if watching TV was rooted out?  What fruit would be born?  What could God accomplish in you if your sins were cut out and burned?
The same could be said in our Church.  While it goes against our democratic tendencies, we don’t vote on truths.  There are times when the Church says, “This is behavior/teaching is wrong.  It needs to be cut out.”  To this day our Church has the authority to reject particular teachings or behaviors that are nothing more than dead weight or bearing bad fruit.
Might I suggest you read John 15 in its entirety today or during this week?  In its first eight verses we here revolutionary claims by Jesus—God is personal, wants us to remain with Him and He wants to remain with us.
Finally, Jesus calls us to bear fruit.  Bear fruit today and this week by remaining with God and allowing Him to remain with you.

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