May 6, 2012
Fifth Sunday of Easter
In this passage from the Last Supper Discourse (13:31-17:26), Jesus reveals to his disciples and to us that he is the true vine planted and cared for by his Father. We are the branches, depending on Jesus for life just as branches depend on the vine. "Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing." Separated from Jesus we cannot bear fruit: like a useless branch we are cut off and soon wither.
To be certain that we have some sense of how radical the gift of sharing his life is, Jesus adds two astonishing statements. If we ask for anything, our Father will give it to us because of the communion of life. It is as though his own beloved Jesus were asking. "Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me," Jesus prayed before restoring his friend Lazarus to life (Jn 11:42). Further, if we bear much fruit from the new Christian life that we have been given, the Father will be glorified in us as he was through Jesus.
At our Eucharist today we hear the gospel as the Christians of John's community at the end of the first century heard it, not with the incomplete knowledge of the disciples before Jesus' death, resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Spirit. We have heard the complete good news beginning with the response of Jesus to the question two disciples asked, "Rabbi, where are you dwelling? Jesus said to them, Come, and you will see" (Jn 1:38-39).
Throughout the Last Supper Discourse, Jesus reveals that he dwells in the Father and the Father dwells in him. And he reveals further that he dwells in us and we dwell in him like a vine and its branches. John's placement of the "vine and branches" saying in the context of the Last Supper reminds us of what Jesus said after feeding a large crowd with bread and fish: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me" (Jn 6:56-57).
If we had only the image of the vine and branches, we might draw the conclusion that our finite human life is totally absorbed by infinite divine life. Rather, the good news is that the communion of life in Christ is a communion of love. "As the Father loves me, so I love you. Remain in my love" (Jn 15:9). Life in Christ is a gift freely given, and a gift freely accepted. Tragically, because there is freedom, the life and love of Christ can be rejected.
The fearful possibility of separation from Christ is a consequence of freedom. It is the possibility of seeking an illusory life that the world separated from God offers. The archetypal figure of the disciple Judas, who succumbed to greed in betraying Jesus, is a graphic reminded of that possibility for all of us. We are meant to live in the peace and joy of the Easter gospel, however, not in fear and uncertainty.
"Without me you can do nothing," Jesus tells us. But with him we can do anything. If we remain in his life and love, we can ask anything of the Father and it will be given. Mindful that Jesus out of love for us, and that his Father might thereby be glorified, did not ask to be saved from his hour of suffering (Jn 12:27). We too will always ask to live in his truth and love. In confident hope that the supreme grace of remaining in Jesus will always be given, we can keep his commandment to love each other as he loved us. Thus, the Father's goodness will also be revealed in us for his honor and glory. "And the way we know that he [Jesus] remains in us is from the Spirit he gave us" (Second reading, 1 Jn 3:24). In this knowledge of faith and hope is our peace and joy.
Campion P. Gavaler, OSB