FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
1 John 3,18-24
The central message of the word of God this Sunday is enclosed in the Johannine image of the vine and the branches. This evangelical allegory, that evokes the biblical symbol of Israel as vineyard of Yahweh, expresses the mystery of the Church and all believers. Each Christian disciple will be a living and fruitful branch, only if he or she lives adhering existentially by faith and love to Christ, “true vine.” For John, the Christian life is defined as a “remaining” in Christ. This is the fundamental and necessary condition so that the faith may have meaning and give fruit.
The first reading (Acts 9,26-31) offers us two notices of the primitive Church, that stress her vitality thanks to the powerful action of God that acts in her. In the first place, the road that Paul had to run to be accepted in the community is spoken of. The reading speaks of the initial fears in front of the ancient persecutor, his official presentation before the apostles and his total acceptance on the part of the community to the point that he “now started to go round with them in Jerusalem, preaching fearlessly in the name of the Lord” (v. 28). The news of this discrete presence of Paul in the Church serves as an introduction and preface of the immense evangelizing action that the Apostle will develop in the future. His presence in this chapter is like a “small mustard seed” that will come to be a great tree. In the second place, the author of the book offers us a rich summary of the life of the primitive community: “The churches throughout Judaea, Galilee and Samaria were now left in peace, building themselves up (oikodomein), living (poréuomai) in the fear of the Lord, and filled (plêthynein) with the consolation of the Holy Spirit” (v. 31). There is used a term to capture the whole positive situation of the community: peace. A peace, nevertheless, that does not mean the absence of persecutions; but in a biblical sense, defines a situation of salvation and fullness of life, inaugurated with the resurrection of the Lord and witnessed to through the proclamation of the gospel. The three verbs used by Luke are significant: the Church builds herself up (oikodomein) like a house, which supposes a lot of fatigue and passing for diverse steps of construction; living (poréuomai) with all of the risks of pain of confronting and accepting the newness and dangers of the way; and they were filled (plêthynein) by the action of the Spirit, that sends out on mission and that at the same time, consoles, protects and enlivens as “paraclete.”
The second reading (1 Jn 3,18-24) is a reminder that Christian love has to be concretized in acts, it cannot remain mere words and promises. A concrete and theological love (of “acts”) (in “the Truth,” that is, in Christ) (v. 18). Only whoever loves so has a tranquil conscience before God; only whoever loves can rejoice in the confidence of being close to him without fear. This is the only commandment of God: “that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and that we love one another as he told us to” (v. 23). Only whoever loves “remains in God and God in him” (v. 24). Faith and love make up the root and foundation of the Christian spiritual and moral journey that overflow from Easter. But it is not only our work, but above all a grace that is necessary to receive day after day from the Spirit: “We know that he lives in us by the Spirit that he has given us” (v. 24).
The gospel (John 15,1-8) presents the relationship between Jesus and his disciples through the image of the vine. In the Old Testament the vineyard was the symbol of Israel: “you brought a vine out of Egypt, you planted it and it took root and filled the whole country” (Ps 80,9; cf. Is 5,1-7; Jer 2,21; Ez 19,10-12, etc.). The relationship between the vineyard and the vinedresser show forth the relations of profound intimacy and love between Yahweh and Israel. Now the vine is Jesus. The vine-Israel reaches its fullness of fidelity in Jesus-vine. He is the true vine and, the branches, united to him, represent the disciples that have believed in him. The vine and the branches, therefore, are a symbol of the Church, of Jesus and his own: the new and true people of God that are born from and live by the Word and the Spirit received from Jesus.
Jesus affirms that “his Father is the vinedresser” (v. 1). As in the Old Testament, it is the Father who has planted the vine. The same takes care of it and shows it his love (Is 5,1-7). As part of loving care, the Father cuts away the branches that do not give fruit, and “every branch that does bear fruit he prunes to make it bear even more” (v. 2). The branches that don’t give fruit and that the Father cuts away, are those that, belonging to the Christian community, do not respond with their works to the divine life that has been communicated to them through Christ. This are destined to disappear irredeemably. In turn, the others, those that give fruit, are objects of a “pruning” on the part of the Father. The intention of this divine action is that the believer may give more fruit. This treats of a constant purification that God himself realizes in the Church and in the heart of each disciple, thus human effort does not suffice to liberate one from egoism and being able to follow the loving dynamic of the Spirit. With reason, John of the Cross affirms: “souls are unable alone to empty themselves of all their appetites in order to reach God” (1 Ascent 1,5). The action of God is necessary that eliminates in man all that which opposes and impedes the development of love that comes from the Spirit. God the Father is a dynamic of life and purification that makes possible the spiritual growth of each believer and of all of the Church, called to exist “without stain or wrinkle” (Eph 5,27). One first, original and radical cleaning, he has produced before “you are pruned already, but means of the word that I have spoken to you” (v. 3). It is the purification of conversion, when man or woman takes the decision of placing it in practice and adhering to Christ. However, the way is long and each believer needs continual purifications to reach the fullness of communion with Christ in love.
The Church and each believer exist to give fruit. Fruit is not something that is added to the Christian being, but belongs to his or her very existence: fruit, that is, the concrete compromise in love, is the exterior manifestation of an interior experience that looks spontaneously to comminute itself. Jesus exhorts the disciples to renovate continually their adhesion to him, in function of the fruit that they have to produce. The branch does not have its own life, and therefore, cannot give fruit of itself. It needs the sap, that is, the dynamic of the Word and the Spirit communicated by Jesus. To interrupt or leave to one side the relationship with Jesus is to be reduced to sterility: “Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me you can do nothing” (v. 5). John uses the verb “remain” to describe this reality (in Greek menô), that is a very that expresses stability and communion. The Christian disciples lives firmly united to Jesus, in unity of communion and of love with him.
The gospel concludes with these words: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask what you will and you shall get it. It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit, and then you will be my disciples” (vv. 7-8). Communion with Jesus and obedience to his Word assure, besides, the favor and presence of Jesus unconditionally in every moment. At the end, the Gospel turns to make reference to the Father, and it speaks of his glory. In the Old Testament, God covers himself in glory when he acts powerfully in favor of his people; Jesus in John’s gospel, with his works has shown the glory of the Father. Now, the glory of the Father has another expression. God shows his glory above all through the works of the disciples of Jesus, that in communion with him, the true Vine, and docile to the Spirit, love without limit and without conditions, generating life and love in favor of the others.