5th Sunday of Easter
In his “Rule for Monks”, St Benedict describes the monastery as “a school for the Lord’s service”, and describes the goal as “our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love”. In this respect, the monastery is like an adult education program, at the end of which, all of us will be examined on love. In preparing for our final exam, all three of the readings this morning have something to say about love.
In the Gospel, Jesus does not give us a definition of love. Instead, he gives a description of the vine and the branches, and says that a branch cannot bear fruit on its own. You cannot become a loving person all by yourself. It is contact with love that makes you loving, just as the branch that remains on the vine bears fruit. Whoever remains in Jesus learns what love is at its source: Jesus, the true vine.
But it is also possible to learn from the branches, since the same Spirit of love runs through the vine and the branches. The branches that bear much fruit, who love much, bring glory to the Father who is the vine grower, because they make it possible for others to love by coming into contact with their fruitful lives. The example of loving people reminds us of God, the Father who pruned them so that they could bear more fruit. The Father is glorified when we love much and show by that, that we are disciples of Jesus.
Love is what forms communities, because it makes us go out of ourselves and live in the good people we love. It moves us to make their thoughts and feelings our own, to share in their lives, and so become one with them. In that way, admiration invites imitation. Branches who remain part of Jesus, the true vine, bear fruit in lives of love, and form clusters of branches that give glory to the Father.
The second reading deals with the vine’s knowledge of the branches – God’s knowledge of us – and how the branches can remain on the vine. We branches may condemn ourselves for not bearing much fruit, but the vine is greater than the branches, and he knows everything. Not only does he know our fruitlessness; he also knows our longings, our penitence, and our dreams. People judge the branches by how much fruit they see, but God searches the heart for the nobility of our desires. So long as there is some fruit of love in our hearts, it shows that we remain on the vine. All those who believe in the name of [God’s] Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another are branches of the true vine: they remain in [God], and he in them.
The first reading shows a disciple of Jesus putting love into practice. Barnabas was a man who insisted on believing the best of others. When some disciples suspected that Paul had not really undergone a conversion, Barnabas insisted on believing that he was genuine and real. I sometimes think the world is largely divided into people who think the best of others and people who think the worst of others. No one believed in people as Jesus himself did, and it is enough for the disciple that he be like his Lord, that the branch be like the vine.
Barnabas’ love was like that: he never held Paul’s past against him. So often it happens that just because a person once did something wrong, that person is forever condemned in our eyes. It is the great characteristic of the heart of God that he does not hold our past sins against us, and we too should never condemn other people because once they failed.
The great lesson that Jesus teaches in the readings this morning is that we are to love not in word or speech but in deed and truth. This is how we shall know that we remain branches of the vine, bearing much fruit by deeds of love. All who do so will share in the paschal mystery as described by St Benedict for his monks: “Never swerving from God’s instructions, but faithfully observing his teaching in the monastery until death, we shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ, that we may deserve also to share in his kingdom. Amen”.