April 29th 2018

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This Sunday's Readings

First Reading                     
A reading from the Acts of the Apostles (9:26-31)

When Saul got to Jerusalem he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him: they could not believe he was really a disciple. Barnabas, however, took charge of him, introduced him to the apostles, and explained how the Lord had appeared to Saul and spoken to him on his journey, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. Saul now started to go round with them in Jerusalem, preaching fearlessly in the name of the Lord. But after he had spoken to the Hellenists, and argued with them, they became determined to kill him. When the brothers knew, they took him to Caesarea, and sent him off from there to Tarsus.

The churches throughout Judaea, Galilee and Samaria were now left in peace, building themselves up, living in the fear of the Lord, and filled with the consolation of the Holy Spirit.


Second Reading
A reading from the first letter of Saint John (3:18-24)

My children, our love is not to be just words or mere talk, but something real and active; only by this can we be certain that we are children of the truth and be able to quieten our conscience in his presence, whatever accusations it may raise against us, because God is greater than our conscience and he knows everything.

My dear people, if we cannot be condemned by our own conscience, we need not be afraid in God's presence, and whatever we ask him, we shall receive, because we keep his commandments and live the kind of life that he wants. His commandments are these: that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and that we love one another as he told us to. Whoever keeps his commandments lives in God and God lives in him. We know that he lives in us by the Spirit that he has given us.


Gospel Reading
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John (15:1-8)

Jesus said:
'I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that bears no fruit he cuts away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes to make it bear even more. You are pruned already, by means of the word that I have spoken to you.

Make your home in me, as I make mine in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, but must remain part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me.

I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is like a branch that has been thrown away - he withers; these branches are collected and thrown on the fire, and they are burnt.

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask what you will and you shall get it. It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit, and then you will be my disciples.'


Sunday Reflection 5th Sunday of Easter (29.04.18)

VINICULTURE WITH A DIFFERENCE

The vine is part and parcel of Jewish imagery. A bunch of grapes is the accepted symbol of Israel because grapes were the fruit of the reconnoitre the Israelites made of the land Canaan in response to God's command issued through Moses. God was to gift Canaan to the remnant of Israelites at the end of their forty years journey in the desert. (Book of Numbers 13:17-24)

'…. Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan … Now the time was the time of the first ripe grapes. … they came to the valley of Eshcol and cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes; and they carried it on a pole …'

Jesus - in John's Gospel for the 5th Sunday after Easter (15:1-8) - focuses his disciples' attention on the vine. He draws an analogy between it and himself. His disciples, being Jews, were already well versed in the vine's symbolism for their people. But now Jesus was uplifting that symbolism to a new height. Henceforth, it would embrace a living, personal relationship with God through the person of God-made-Man, Jesus the Christ.

Just as God had previously prepared his remnant people, after their centuries of captivity in Egypt and their forty-year trek through the Sinai, for the land where he would settle them, so, 'in the fullness of time', he prepares us for eternity. St. Paul expounds the phrase in his letter to the Galatians (4:4-7)

"But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons (and daughters). And because you are sons (and daughters), God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" So you are no longer a slave, but a son (or daughter), and if a son (or daughter), then an heir through God."

In viniculture grafting has a long and successful history in developing new varieties of vine and therefore of grapes. Much of the acclaimed wine now coming from the 'new world' resulted from European vine cuttings being grafted on to new-world stems that supplied the life-giving sap.

Archaeological evidence of wine has been found in China circa  7000 BC, Georgia circa 6000 BC, Iran circa  5000 BC, Greece circa  4500 BC and Sicily circa  4000 BC. The oldest evidence of wine production has been found in Armenia circa  4100 BC. Presently, there are over 10,000 varieties of wine grapes.

Our grandparents and great grandparents would be flabbergasted to learn that the Wine Standards Board reports that, in England, there are just over 450 wine producing vineyards. The largest of these are in Surrey and Kent. The most northerly commercially producing vineyard is in Yorkshire. Welsh vineyards date back to Roman times. Currently, there are 22 operational vineyards in the Principality.

Jesus says he is the true vine. Truth is the 'sap' flowing through this Divine vine. In identifying himself as the 'true vine' Jesus is distancing himself from the 'vineyard of Israel' that had run wild. The prophet Jeremiah tells the people of his time that they have turned into 'a degenerate and wild vine'(Jer. 2:21) A people who claimed Jewish descent but who no longer drew their sustenance from the One True God. They were Jews in name and external practice only. The parallel today is the incalculable number of people, particularly in Europe, who, though Baptised as infants and who attended Catholic and other Christian schools, have effectively become detached from the Vine of Christ or, as Jeremiah expressed it, have 'run wild'. A vine deprived of sap becomes infected, withers and dies.

Jesus is saying of himself: 'It is I who am the true vine." Claiming to be 'Catholic' because of an infant Baptism will not save us if, presently, we do not have an intimate, living, communion with Jesus, the true vine of God. Jesus lays it down that neither Jewish blood nor Christian Baptism brings salvation but only a living faith in him. External qualifications cannot set a person at rights with God; only a daily, living, loving and attentive relationship with Jesus the Christ can do that.

In drawing his word picture of the vine, Jesus knew his words would be heard and understood, but not necessarily appreciated. The vine was grown all over Palestine, as it still is. It is a labour-intensive plant which needs a great deal of attention if it is to produce the best fruit. Needing light and air, it is raised off the ground on terraces. The ground itself has to be free from weeds and damaging insects. Weeds will not be found in successful vineyards!

When the conditions are right, the vine grows luxuriantly. But drastic pruning is necessary, for it will creep over the ground at speed. A young vine is not allowed to fruit for the first three years and each year is cut drastically back to develop and conserve its life and energy. When mature, it is pruned in December and January. It bears two kinds of branches, one that bears fruit and one that does not. Branches that do not bear fruit are pruned-out so that they do not waste the plant's precious sap. Jesus knew that a vine cannot produce its best harvest without drastic and skilful pruning.

Jesus says his followers are like that. Some are fruit-bearing branches of himself; others are useless because they bear no fruit. Who was Jesus thinking of when he spoke of the fruitless branches? Was He thinking of Jews and Christians for whom faith has become no more than a label without practice, words without deeds? Was he was thinking of Christians who became apostates, who, having heard and accepted His message, then fell in with tempting falsehoods, becoming traitors to the Lord?

Jesus is speaking words not so much of condemnation as of a call to the spiritual resuscitation he alone can offer. It is a resuscitation that will need continuous self-administered 'pruning' as well as that of Divine origin. When there is that collaborative 'pruning', to which Jesus refers in his analogy of his role as the vine and ourselves as the branches, the harvest will indeed be plentiful as willed by our heavenly Father, the vinedresser.

The Prophet Isaiah put these words of God before his beleaguered people suffering because of their own infidelity:

"On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
   a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine--
    the best of meats and the finest of wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
    the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away
 the tears from all faces;
he will remove his people's disgrace
    from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken."
(25:6-9)

The mountain referred to is symbolised by Jerusalem, chosen by God as the focus for the great assembly. From all approaches there is an ascent to the geographical city indicating the uphill nature of the pilgrimage of faith to which all the Baptised and, indeed, all peoples are called. In this ascent the Baptised are enabled to lift up their hearts and eyes in hope because they are engrafted on to Christ, the True Vine.