The Fifth Sunday of Easter
Acts 9:26-31 (Paul is sent to Tarsus after threats on his life in Damascus and Jerusalem)
Psalm 22: 26-32 (I will praise the Lord in the assembly of His people)
1 John 3:18-24 (Let us love not in word or speech alone, but also in action and in truth)
John 15:1-8 ("I am the vine; you are the branches")
And: Philippians 2:1-18 (Take for yourselves the same attitude that is yours in Christ Jesus)
(Yesterday's post contained a reflection for Mother's Day. I was singing at Mass last night and the homily was devoted to Moms and the "ministry" that is uniquely theirs.)
As we move further along in this season, we are treated to a more-or-less continuous series of passages from Acts of the Apostles, the first letter of John, and John's Gospel. I've considered Paul of Tarsus at some length in the last week or so, and will no doubt return to him before this series ends.
Today we hear Jesus express himself through John in the imagery of the vine and branches, and the bearing of good fruit. Over the last couple of days (courtesy of my wife) I caught a couple of documentaries via video online dealing with various parts of the food chain; both of these have been produced within this passing decade. Not coincidentally, all three have something in common.
The first of the films, The Future of Food, is an exposé of an industry that on the surface appears to have the lofty goal of increasing crop yield through genetic modification of seeds. The other, Super Size Me, touches on the fast-food industry and its possible role in the rise of obesity in the United States. Both of these films show the dire consequences of mucking about with things that are of God: Nature and the human mind and body.
When temptation comes, it can often take the shape of a lofty goal or a great convenience. But as I came to see, ambiguous goals and convenience for convenience's sake do not produce good fruit. For decades past seed farmers made an art of culling seed from the previous crop to plant for the future. Not every seed was used; only the best were considered. These weren't genetically enhanced or altered; and what these seeds produced was a 'win-win' situation for all concerned. Likewise, the human body needs balanced intake. After a thirty-day diet consisting solely of fast-food fare, the filmmaker gained over twenty-five pounds and nearly destroyed his digestive system.
In his rendering of the Good News, John gives us several images representing Jesus. Last week we recalled a lifelike image in the Good Shepherd. During the week previous (and later this summer) the image of Jesus as the Bread of Life is considered. Here, in the image of the vine and branches, we have another link to life in the plant kingdom.
The temptations of the world graft themselves onto the branches of the vine. They would threaten to destroy it but cannot, as Jesus is at the heart of the vine. The careful gardener will prune those branches that have become dried-up and brittle, and can no longer bear fruit; not doing so takes energy away from the rest of the branches, reducing the quality of their fruit.
How do we carefully assure that we (the branches) are healthy?
Through care and concern for ourselves and for others, we can stand up and be fruit-bearing, life-sustaining people of God. Love is not a mere word, according to John - it is a decision leading to action. If our consciences pull at us indicating something is wrong, it's time to stop to pray and reflect further.
What motivates us must not be self-serving. In one case, the ambiguous corporate goal of genetically modifying seed to increase yield was done with the intent of cornering the marketplace and increasing profits, without concern for the land, the people who work it, or the health impact down the road of people who consume that altered crop. In the other, fast-food is easily marketed at children and young families who are very busy with life. Billions of dollars are spent in advertising and promotions to get people to buy - only a small fraction of that amount is spent to assure what is being sold is healthy.
In the end, as Paul writes to the Church in Caesaria Philippi, what brings us around to balance is our attitude. It must be selfless, as was that of Jesus Christ, who - even though he was God, the second Person of the Trinity, and knew it - did not regard being God as his position. On earth he dispensed with vanity, and the pursuance of what we might think of as "the good life" - to bring about a life that is truly good.
May we find in each other that which is truly good. May we offer love for love's sake today, especially to our wives, mothers, grandmothers, and godmothers. And may we celebrate today with the wine of gladness, which was poured out once long ago for our benefit, to renew the earth, and give us renewed life.