Commentary on Acts 9:26-31; 1 John 3:18-24; John 15:1-8
NOW THAT JESUS IS RISEN it means that he is now IN his people. Of course, Jesus is present in every person in some way (“as often as you do it to one of these, the least of my brothers and sisters, you do it to me”) but he is present in a special way in his own disciples, that is, those who accept him as their Lord.
Today’s Gospel says that our relationship to him is similar to a tree and its branches. The branch cannot be separated from the parent tree and continue to live. Is that why many, with the name of Christian, fall away? They have never really been part of the vine?
At the same time, it is not enough to be a branch on the tree. There must also be fruit produced. It is not enough to be a Christian and “fulfil one’s religious duties”.
What is that fruit that Jesus speaks of? We get an indication in the Second Reading which is from the First Letter of John. There he says that love cannot just be in words and talk, not even in the most lovely-sounding prayers.
Love in deed
Love, he says, is shown in ACTION, in DEEDS. Only when we are loving in deed can we know that Jesus lives in us. An example from the behaviour of electricity may help us to understand. If a person makes an electrical contact with his body while wearing thick-soled rubber boots, the electricity will not enter his body because it cannot go through the body. On the other hand, if one were to stand bare-footed in several inches of water, then the electricity romps through the body (with rather disastrous results).
In other words, if electricity cannot go through me, it cannot go into me. And God’s love is similar. If the love he communicates to me does not pass on to others, then it does not come to me either. For me to experience God’s love, others have to experience mine. And I cannot make an exception of even one person, because God doesn’t.
And that is how we become “good”. We are good because God’s love and goodness is acting in and through us. We usually put it the other way: if I am first good, then God will love me. But God always loves me, whether I am good or bad. When I am good, it is because I allow his love to act in me; when I am bad, it is because I have blocked off his love.
We must abandon entirely the idea that we “earn” God’s love by our “good deeds”. God does not love me because I am good; I am good because God’s love is working in and through me to others.
Love in words
We might also add that loving in deeds sometimes includes words. Often many of us find it easier to express our love by doing something than by speaking directly to a person. Parents, for instance, often feel they show their love by providing the best education they can afford for their children, by showering them with gifts and pocket money. Yet, those same children may seldom hear real words of love and affection spoken by their parents (especially fathers). In that and similar cases, loving by deeds becomes an escape for the more direct love expressed in sincerely meant words.
We have an excellent example of what we have been talking about in the experience of St Paul in today’s First Reading.
He SAID (in words) that he was now a disciple of Jesus and no longer a persecutor of Christians. They just did not believe him. They felt he was an infiltrator. The leopard does not change his spots. His words were not enough.
Only later, when he really proved his love of Jesus by his total service of the community were they ready to accept him. When he spoke out so strongly for Jesus that his life was threatened and his fellow-Christians had to send him away to a safer place, they knew he was for real. When his new-found Christian faith bore fruit, when his love was shown in action, then they knew that Jesus was his Lord. And subsequently, of course, Paul was instrumental in very many people becoming disciples also. Truly, his was a fruitful life.
Am I dead or alive?
So, finally I have to ask myself: Am I really a living branch on the vine that is Jesus? Am I really a Christian that bears fruit? Am I living my life creatively so that others also benefit?
Can other people see the influence that Jesus has on my life – in my words, my actions, my general behaviour and lifestyle? Am I unmistakably a follower of Jesus?
How many people have come to know and believe in Jesus because of me? How many people have asked to be baptised because of my example?
It is only through the way that we live that people will be inspired to follow our footsteps and discover what we have discovered: the joy of knowing God’s love that comes to us through Jesus and his Church.