17th May 2009 (6th of Easter)
Today is Rogation Sunday, when by tradition we ask God’s blessing on our farms, so that in due course there may be a good harvest. The readings reflect the desire for a spiritual harvest: the first reading tells of the first harvest among those outside the Jewish faith, and the second tells of God’s desire that we may bear much spiritual fruit.
The reading from John continues last Sunday’s passage, in which Jesus told his disciples that he was the true vine, his disciples were the branches, and God the Father was the gardener cutting out the dead wood and pruning the fruitful branches in order to maximise the crop. Jesus’ command to us was simply to remain in the vine, as branches firmly attached to the stem.
In this passage Jesus is continuing his message. The attachment of the branch to the vine is two way: the branch contributes to the life of the vine by photosynthesis and by bearing fruit, and the vine provides a home for the branch, and through its sap provides life-giving water and nutrients. In the same way our attachment to Jesus is two way. Jesus gives us love which is beyond our comprehension – the same kind of love that God the Father has for Jesus, a love that can only be measured by the fact that he laid down his life for us. We give him only what should be the most natural response in the world: to remain open to his love, receiving and enjoying it. That is the most fulfilling and joyful experience possible.
How do we remain open to his love? By not putting up any barriers, not turning away from him – in other words, by not disobeying our Lord. We obey Jesus’ commands because he is our Lord and because he is good and wise and loves us. When we accept him as he is, we accept both his authority and his love – we remain in his love, and the two-way relationship continues. Our relationship with Jesus should reflect his relationship with God the Father: he gave his Father all the love and obedience and respect he deserved, and received the full measure of his Father’s love and approval in return.
The surprising thing is that Jesus now mentions only one command. He does not talk about love for God or love for our neighbour. He talks about love for one another. Remember, he is talking to his disciples, not to humanity in general; later on in this talk he distinguishes between his disciples and ‘the world’. He is not repeating the ancient command to love our neighbours. He is making what he called ‘a new commandment’ (John 13:34), to love those who are following him, those who like us are his disciples. We are to love one another as he has loved us – and he loves us with a love that is prepared to die for us. To follow him means learning to imitate him, and that means learning to love those he loves, even though at first that seems impossible.
We need to recognise the difficulty we have obeying this command. We cannot pretend it is unimportant – we can only remain in his love if we keep it. But neither can we pretend we can obey it in our own strength – we all know that some other followers of Jesus are not easy to love. Perhaps it is significant that, just before he repeats this command, he promises that the Father will give us whatever we ask in his name. Maybe that is a hint that he wants us to see that we haven’t got what it takes, and to see that God can give us the power to obey whatever he commands, including this. All we can do is to ask God to give us his love for our brothers and sisters in Christ – and then to do our best to think, speak and act as Jesus would. We won’t be completely successful from the beginning; but we can learn and grow, and when the desire and will is there, and the fruit will grow.
1) What is your attitude towards Christ’s commands?
2) What helps and what hinders our life ‘in the vine’?