Reflection - Fifth Sunday of Easter 2021
Photo: Emily Powers on Unsplash
Jesus used the image of ‘the Good Shepherd’ which we reflected on in last Sunday’s readings to describe himself. Everyone knew and understood the role of the shepherd. The shepherd, a true shepherd had a close relationship with the sheep.
In this Sunday’s gospel, John describes Jesus or Jesus describes himself as being a vine and his followers as branches of the vine. This is a closer relationship than the shepherd with the sheep because the vine with its fruit is an organic whole.
There is an intimacy between the shepherd and his sheep, the vine with its branches and fruit goes beyond intimacy, we perceive a sense of wholeness, of being one.
We are not as familiar today with the depth of these images because we do not experience the world of the shepherd. The vine, a growing part of creation when the branches are laden with fruit, cannot tell us anything. We learn from our own intelligence, from our own ‘seeing’ through the use of allegory and metaphor.
We are meant to understand how close the Father and Jesus are, that Jesus always discerned the Father’s will, we are to follow their example. St Catherine of Siena, whose feast we celebrated last week said, ’God is closer to us than water is to a fish.’ Very simply put but profound in its own way if we take the time to sit down and allow it to lead us into prayer.
The larger image is simply put: the Father is the vinedresser he makes sure the vine is healthy. He prunes the vine to produce fruit, it is necessary to prune the vine in order to have healthy fruit.
There is a dynamic of growth; it is in the nature of the vine and its branches to produce fruit. People understand the pleasure of drinking wine and eating grapes. By being closely connected Jesus his followers will be happy and fulfilled people who wish to share this way of living with other people. This is good news for everybody.
The contemporary context is significant. John was writing his gospel addressed to the Christian communities springing up and dealing with an issue that seems to be deep in human nature – excluding others because they are not like us. We are special, they are not, they belong to inferior ugly places which makes them like the place they came from.
The early Christian communities had a hodgepodge of nationalities, of people with different backgrounds – Jewish, pagan, Greek. Their religious practices were different, they ate different food, their lives were lived differently.
The image of the vine and branches shows that faith in Jesus will unite them into a new identity. They can have confidence that the Christian community will be pruned and shaped by the Father for the good of all.
God knows what the plan is, it is revealed to us. Follow.
Columban Fr Gary Walker is currently living at the Columban house in Sandgate, Brisbane.