Fr. Frank McDevitt is the pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish in Aurora, Ont.
We can safely assume that Jesus was not an automaton. That suddenly He would just make a statement about the Kingdom of God without context. No, it is reasonable to imagine that the great teachings of Jesus were immersed in lively conversations with lots of questions, of which only some of the answers were recorded.
However, today’s Gospel is one of those situations where the answer was recorded, but we may wonder what the question was.
Jesus tells us He is the vine and we are the branches? We might presume that the question is, “How do we dwell in Jesus?” If that is the question, then what Jesus says is amazingly consoling. A close read of the teaching leads me to believe that the question was, in fact, “How do we bear fruit for the Kingdom of God?” This is a question that is as relevant to our lives today as it surely was in the time of the disciples.
Jesus is telling us that all branches need pruning if they are to bear fruit. What needs to be pruned in our lives? Maybe it is attitudes or habits or even dispositions that get in the way of us bearing fruit? Maybe it is holding onto the past? If we cut away these bits, we free ourselves to bear more fruit.
In our first reading, we have a concrete story about pruning to bear fruit, not in the life of an individual, but in the life of a community. Paul, the great persecutor of the early Church has encountered the living Christ and has become a witness for Christ. He arrives in Jerusalem where the people of the early Church are not ready to accept him. Our first reading gives this very visual description of Paul being taken to Caesarea and put on a boat heading for Tarsus. They pruned Paul out of the ministry of the Church at Jerusalem because he was going to be a source of controversy rather than a source of fruitfulness.
It seems to me that it would useful to look at our power to prune during this time of COVID. This difficult time has caused us to look at our relationships. It also offers us an opportunity to look at how we use our time and what we value. Many mention how little money they spend during lockdown. Why is that?
There is no doubt that there is deprivation, especially in the loss of connection with family or friends. As COVID creates vacuums in our lives, it is a good time to consider what is missing from our lives right now that we really do not need back. Cutting away distractions that do not serve us well and letting go of negative feelings and resentments – indeed letting go of those things from the past that define us poorly.
This time of COVID may stymie the work of Christ, but it does not stop it. If we see this as a time for pruning, it may indeed become a fruitful time. In the immediacy of our homes, in the challenge to adapt our life of prayer, in the way that we embrace hope and honour the heroic work of others.
We know when we are holding onto things that will undermine our full potential in relation to Christ and to our ability to communicate with Him by the lives we live. This may be the time to address that.
Our life in Christ calls us to love, to be kind and just, and beyond that, we each have our own ways that we bear fruit for the kingdom. This is tied to the life of each individual. There are those who exude joy, there are those who remember well. There are those with clarity of vision, who are never get distracted by all of the interference that gets in the way of life in Christ.
In this COVID time, let us each in our own way let go of those things that do not allow us to grow and bless the gifts of those around us. By pruning away what is unnecessary, let us open our lives to the bounty of a fruitful life in Christ.
This reflection is based on the readings from the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B: Acts 9.26-31; 1 John 3.18-24; and John 15.1-8.