Fifth Sunday of Easter
The Acts of the Apostles, once again, furnishes the first reading for the liturgy in the season of Easter.
This weekend’s reading is about Paul and Barnabas. In the story, Paul, who was converted on the road to Damascus and who then spent much time learning about Jesus, attempts to join the Christian community in Jerusalem. The community fears him — not without cause. After all, Paul had been a very strident opponent of the Christian Gospel and he indeed had persecuted Jerusalem’s Christians.
Understandably these same Christians must have wondered what dark purpose lay beneath Paul’s wish to enter their community. Was he looking for ways to entrap Christians, or to gather ammunition to attack them before the authorities?
Barnabas, already part of the
community, spoke for Paul, urging Paul’s admission into the community. Eventually Paul was accepted.
Paul remained in Jerusalem, speaking boldly about Jesus wherever he went. Such fervor was not always appreciated among those not of the Christian fold. Some tried to kill him, but the Christians rescued him by taking him to Caesarea, the Roman capital of the region, a seaport on the Mediterranean located slightly north of modern Tel Aviv. There they put Paul on a ship bound for Tarsus.
Meanwhile, as Acts says, the Church in Palestine was growing and its faith was deepening.
Also, once more this season, the First Letter of John supplies the second reading.
As was the case in the readings for the past weekends, this passage is moving and compelling in its eloquence. It refers to its readers as “little children.” This form of address, in itself, is highly expressive. Believers, as all humans, are vulnerable. They are weak. They are limited. They are “little children,” but God’s children. God will protect them from peril. Sin endangers them.
St. John’s glorious Gospel provides the last reading.
Last weekend, the Lord gave us the beautiful image of the Good Shepherd. He is our leader. He guides us away from danger.
This weekend, the image is no less telling and descriptive. Jesus is the vine. We believers are the branches. This image was as immediate in its message to the first hearers of these words as was the story of the Good Shepherd. The society in which Jesus lived was agrarian. Viticulture was popular. Everyone knew about vines, and everyone knew what vine growers did for a living.
In last weekend’s Gospel, Jesus appeared as our guide and protector. In this weekend’s reading, the link between believers and Jesus is revealed. His life is within believers. He is bonded with believers. Without Christ, they can accomplish nothing. In Christ, they can live forever.
The key to this wonderful relationship is our willingness to love the Lord. His love for us is uncompromising, constant and complete.
Our love requires absolute trust and commitment.
Achieving this supreme level of love means recognizing the Lord and setting nothing above our desire to be disciples. Paul is a good model. After despising Jesus, he changed his heart, completely, totally.
The image of the vine is useful. Branches die if cut from the vine. Christians die spiritually if cut from the vine, which is Christ. The tragedy in this case is that some willingly cut themselves away from the vine. The blade is voluntary sin.
To look again to Paul as a model, he indeed was converted. The process was not instantaneous. Elsewhere Acts speaks of his intense study and reflection as he sought to learn about Jesus. For him, discipleship was no solitary experience. He wanted to be part of the Church. Once converted, Paul wholeheartedly turned to Jesus.
A secondary lesson is about evangelization. Barnabas reached out to Paul to bring him into the community.
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