Fifth Sunday of Easter
1) Acts 9:26-31
Psalm 22:26-27, 28, 30, 31-32
2) 1 Jn 3:18-24
Gospel: Jn 15:1-8
Eileen, my mother-in-law, is gifted with the proverbial green thumb. I have watched in amazement as she transforms, with careful pruning and watering, a wilting plant into thriving foliage. Her garden is alive with all kinds of colorful flowers, tropical shrubs and heirloom plants.
Like every successful gardener, she watches over each plant, tending to broken leaves, dried stems and wilted flowers. She’s often found in her garden, caring for plants with her pruning tools in hand. She spends many patient hours cutting, trimming and pruning the garden. The fruit of the time she remains in her garden is seen in the beautiful flowers and plants that decorate her home.
In the Gospel, Jesus says to his disciples, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.” And carrying the image further, Jesus speaks of his relationship with his disciples when he says, “I am the vine, you are branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit.” Jesus draws on a familiar, everyday agricultural image to teach a profound lesson about the meaning of discipleship and the power of God’s word in our lives.
What does it mean to remain in God’s word? In the first reading, the newly converted Paul preaches boldly in the name of the risen Lord, inviting the gentiles to faith. Through the preaching of Paul, the Holy Spirit worked powerfully as Christianity spread from small communities to the religion of the Roman Empire.
The first Christians remained in God’s word by hearing and accepting in faith the love of God. Jesus invites us to do the same as we remain in the word of God by our acts of faith, hope and love.
How do we know that Jesus remains close to us? The second reading offers an answer: “And his commandment is this: We should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us. Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them, and the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit he gave us.”
If we remain close to God’s word, the Holy Spirit gently trims and prunes our words and actions so we better bear the good fruit of God’s love in our love for one another. The word of God is a kind of pruning in our daily lives.
God’s word challenges us where we are comfortable and encourages us when we are anxious, discouraged or restless. And as we remain close to God’s word, God comes to dwell in us, as he did with Mary, to whom the month of May is dedicated.
As we translate God’s word into action by living the command to love God and love neighbor, we bear the good fruit of love, joy and peace. We become fruitful branches of Jesus, the vine, making this world a place of his truth, goodness and beauty, as we pray, “speak to me, Lord.”
How do you remain each day in the words of the risen Jesus?
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Sullivan is a professor at The Catholic University of America.