Fifth Sunday of Easter – Year B


Kevin C. Mullins, O.S.A.
St. Augustine Friary
Chicago, Illinois

Acts 9:26-31
Ps 22:26-27, 28, 30, 31-32
1 Jn 3:18-24
Jn 15:1-8

A question recently raised in a discussion at our friary in Chicago asked, “What does grace look like?”

During this Easter season our scripture readings frequently invite us to ponder that question and to do so by considering some of those early Christians who sought to know Christ and follow in His ways. Many of them are now referred to as “saints” because of the way in which they joined themselves to the One who is the Vine, and who lived and loved as His branches.

What does grace look like? Last week we heard about Peter’s first healing recorded in the Acts of the Apostles – a healing enacted “in the name of Jesus Christ.” This is the same Peter who had denied Jesus in a most profound way and who, by the grace of God, is now acting in the name of the Christ.

What does grace look like? Today we meet Paul, formerly Saul, who now enters into relationship with the apostles and who speaks out “boldly in the name of the Lord.” This is the same man who had persecuted the earliest followers of Jesus – seeking to violently destroy this new movement. By the grace of God, he now becomes the proud proclaimer of his faith in Jesus and sets out to evangelize in His name.

In today’s gospel passage from John (15:1-8), Jesus employs another image to invite us into a deep and intimate relationship that has already been imaged in the relationship of the shepherd and his flock. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower…. you are the branches.” Seven times we are invited to “remain” in Him, to “abide” in Him, to “live” in Him – to allow Jesus to be the source of our being, the sustenance of our life.

What does grace look like? A careful reading of today’s scriptures clearly tells us that Christianity is so much more than just a name or identifier. It is truly a relationship into which we have been invited and called by name! “If you remain in me…” serves to remind us that a choice is offered us, and it has everything to do with the path ahead. We cannot remain indifferent to it; a choice must be made!

Our scripture readings invite us to live in communion with Christ. More than just receiving communion, this is about living in communion with Him. Today’s gospel invites us to share life with the true source of lasting peace, to share the vine of life which Christ is. In using this image in His discourse to the disciples, Jesus is affirming that He is faithful in bearing the fruit of God’s work, in contrast to the infidelity of the Israelites – and so it is Jesus who is the true vine.

Followers of Jesus, attached to him as are branches to the vine, are invited to share His life and called to accomplish His work. But here is the rub:

Both elements of Christian life are essential: work depends on life and life must overflow into action. It is not enough to call ourselves Christian! To be alive in Christ we must also BE Christians, and we must live in Christ by participating in His mission, by proclaiming the risen Christ and by being the living Body of Christ – both in word and in deed.

And so we rely upon the grace of God to guide us along the way, that we might find the courage to not only receive the invitation but to respond more fully by the lives we live and the love we bear one another.

Truth be told, it is one thing to hear that – it is quite another thing to desire it and to be willing to work for it. How often in our world today do we hear of peoples’ desire for justice, for peace, for unity? But how many are willing to take the risks that come with a desire for such things? How many are willing to be pruned of the things that contribute to economic injustice in our world? …or to be pruned of that which denies the dignity of all God’s children, whatever their race or color, whatever their sex or creed, whatever their country of origin of level of standing in our society? How many of us are willing to accept personal responsibility for our actions, or for our failure to act, for our choices, or for our failure to see that there are choices to be made?

Our culture tells us to not be responsible, let someone else take care of our problems. Our political system shirks its responsibilities, while rewarding those who do so. Even some within our Christian family say “Let go and let God” – with the intent that God can take care of things if He wants to, and we can get on with our lives by washing our hands of any responsibility or accountability.

Our second reading speaks to us about our two-fold participation in the life of Christ. John writes:

“Children, beloved, let us love in deed and in truth.” Keep his commandments, do what is right, do what is pleasing in his sight.

Let go and let God? Absolutely – if that is understood to mean letting go of the things which get in the way of accomplishing God’s desired plan, if that is understood as opening ourselves to the gift of God’s grace in our lives, even when that grace means the need for some pruning and discomfort. It is only in the power of God’s grace and God’s Spirit that we can live as branches of the true vine of Christ.

Believe, and then love, for in doing this we will live in Christ who is the source of our unity and our peace, who is the source and the goal of our Christian life. Then we will see what grace looks like!