Each year, on the fifth and sixth Sundays of Easter, the gospel readings are taken from the long discourse which, according to St John, Jesus gave to his apostles on the night before his passion. This is contained in chapters 13 to 17 of the gospel. This Sunday’s extract gives us the parable of the vine and as always it has different perspectives which we need to go into.
The passage starts with the words, “Jesus said these words to the disciples”. This little introductory phrase reminds us of an important point: Jesus’ words were never spoken at some indeterminate time; they were said by him at a particular moment. At this time, for example, the apostles were present with him; they seemed to be looking ahead to the coming passion and anticipating the part they were to play in it.
In fact we know now that they were not ready for it. He was giving them a warning about what was going to happen. He was also telling them of what lay in the future for them once the passion and death of Jesus was over.
We gather as people who have been grafted into Christ by baptism, as the people who have heard his voice and who seek to follow him in our lives, and to join with him in prayer in thanking the Father.
In today’s gospel we are reminded that this discipleship is not a passive affair: we are made part of Christ so that through us the Father’s kingdom can come closer to all humanity and so that, through us, his will can be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Comments on Gospel: Jn 15:1-8
That Jesus is the true vine is one of the important images in John for the relationship of the community to God. In this he takes over the Old Testament images of Israel as the vine, and the pruning image from the prophets (e.g. Jer 5:10 or Ezek 17:7). The relationship of ‘remaining in’ Jesus is the foundation for the confidence that the community has in its prayer to the Father.
1. During this whole period of the year, the focus is on discipleship. In Lent the emphasis is on recognising the blockages that exist in our lives in following Christ and repairing damaged relationships with God and our neighbours. In Easter it is about growing in discipleship.
2. Discipleship is not a rush of enthusiasm, but a long term committment to following Christ, collaborating with Christ, to having a relationship with the Father through Christ. And, in every long-term relationship there is need for refocusing, replenishing, restoring, and reconciliation.
. Discipleship is also about ‘discipline’ in the sense of training and the building of habits of behaviour. To be a disciple of Jesus requires training in a particular way of living, it requires the acquisition of specific skills, and it requires the practice to know how to put those skills into practice in our lives. For example, to follow Christ requires that we have developed some skills in prayer – not perhaps the elaborate schemes for prayer that some teachers of prayer have developed over the centuries, but it does require knowing the basic prayers of the Christians. But the skill of praying requires the practice of regular prayer and the prudence to know that sometimes one has time to pray and sometimes one does not. A Christian lifestyle demands sympathy for the poor and those suffering injustice, but this sympathy is a skill which entails recongising injustice and knowing that it is not part of God’s plan, and the prudence to know how to do something about it.