Fifth Sunday of Easter: Year B
Peace be with you and, as we come together here on this Fifth Sunday of Easter, I sincerely hope everyone is still experiencing a very happy and blessed Easter season. So, here’s an Easter homework challenge. Today, go wish a stranger happy Easter and watch the look on their face. Who knows, it might give you an opportunity to evangelize a little. So, we just heard Jesus say, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” This is the last of seven “I am” metaphors Jesus uses in John’s Gospel and perhaps the most difficult to understand. John links all seven to some very vivid images. Let’s listen for a moment to the others; “I am the bread of life, I am the light of the world, I am the resurrection and the life, I am the way and the truth and the life, I am the gate,” and from last Sunday, “I am the Good Shepherd.” What do all of these “I am” statements have in common? They give us absolute certainty, Jesus Christ is not simply some inspiring teacher, philosopher, or guru from the past. No, nothing as superficial or simple as that. You may admire Abraham Lincoln or Gandhi, but you don’t call them the resurrection and the life. Jesus is telling us he is a force in which we, as Christians, participate. He is a river of light in which we swim. Today’s Gospel statement is so radical we’re actually told there is an organic relationship between Jesus and humanity. And perhaps most extreme he says, “Without me you can do nothing.” That is certainly not a statement we’d hear from some spiritual guru or philosopher.
Unfortunately, it certainly is a statement that is completely counter to our strong individualistic American culture, however. In this country we’re raised and taught to admire or even emulate that tough, independent, unique individual, aren’t we? Independence is an American icon. And here we have Jesus telling us, “Without me, you can do nothing.” And then he goes on to say, “Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither.” Is Jesus telling us here unless we remain grafted onto him, we cannot be saved or if we don’t worship him, we’re like a worthless branch, broken off, and thrown into a fire? All I can say is, “thank you Lord for telling me eternal judgment ain’t none of my business. And all I’m supposed to do is my best to be a fruitful branch on the vine grower’s vine.”
OK, to really put these “I am” statements into a proper context, especially “I am the vine, you are the branches,” let’s go back to the beginning of John’s Gospel to help us try and understand who Jesus is, maybe just a little bit better. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” The written Greek John used that we translate as “the Word” is Logos, which has a deeper and broader meaning then the simple English four letters, w-o-r-d. As the Logos, Jesus is the very embodiment of the power by which God created and sustains everything. It means that anything that exists, exists through Jesus Christ, the Word, the Logos of God. John brings Jesus’s image into even sharper focus when he says, “All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.” Consequently, we find everything in our very being exists in Jesus. So now when we hear him say, “Without me you can do nothing,” it should make a little more sense. Albeit it still is pretty heavy theology. Perhaps most humbling however, is when we read, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Just think, the power that created and now sustains the whole universe choose to enter human history and dwell among us as a human being.
So, let’s think about the implications here for a minute. “I am the vine, you are the branches” and “Without me you can do nothing.” Jesus, the creative Word of God, is not simply making this proclamation for his disciples 2000 years ago; he is making it for all of humanity for all of eternity. All of humankind, every single person, is somehow spiritually rooted in the same vine, Jesus Christ. Everyone in all of creation is supernaturally rooted in the Logos of God. Now Christians have been given the enormous privilege to know the Logos of God in a most personal way. The Logos by which everything exists, the Logos that undergirds the intelligibility of the universe, the Logos by which all logic, science, and philosophy operate is a real person whom we, in Jesus Christ, have come to know.
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” So as Christians, we know the Word of God through which everything exists as a real person who entered human history. We know Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, as a person who talks with us, walks with us, and feeds us. As Catholic Christians we know Jesus in the most intimate way possible through his real presence in the Eucharist. Whew. As I try to meditate on this for a while, it’s almost impossible to get my head around it. And the unlimited creator of the Universe is not only a friend, but his demonstrated love for me and for you is so great, he freed us from the death of sin by his own suffering and death on the Cross. Everyone may be rooted in Christ, but Christians have been given the incomparable privilege of knowing personally and physically the Logos of God.
Finally listen to what Jesus says at the end of today’s Gospel, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.” So, are these magic words? Does this mean I can pray for that new Corvette? No, you have to put them in context with his next sentence. “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” In our personal relationship with Jesus, the Logos of God, he wants us to always live, act, and seek gifts that will glorify the Father. If you remain personally rooted in Jesus Christ, your mind will become aligned with him and you will be given gifts that will enable you to give glory to God. Every single day all of us should pray to the Lord for gifts of grace enabling our thoughts, words, and actions only to give Him glory.