29 April, 2018
A certain young man in his twenties had got into bad company. Soon he was drinking heavily and sometimes took drugs. He was warned once at his workplace that if his work did not begin to improve soon, he would be made redundant. In fact, his life was in a mess. About this time he met a young woman to whom he was attracted and he invited her for a meal. Very quickly she realized what was going on in his life as they shared their experiences. When he asked her out again she told him bluntly she didn’t see why she should go given his lifestyle. But she decided to accept provided he showed signs of change. After the second time out together he knew she might be the one he was looking for. As they became closer friends she told him clearly that unless he gave up drugs and heavy drinking she would end their friendship. Bit by bit he did change and they are now engaged. It was his relationship with her and her understanding that ultimately bore fruit. However, it was a process which took time.
Today’s gospel is also about relationships, communion and friendship. Just as without the help of his girlfriend the young man might have had a disastrous life, Jesus is telling us that even more so, we will not have the deep joy and peace we seek unless we are in a deep personal relationship with him and his Father. We will not be true disciples of Jesus if we remain far from him and don’t have his value system. Sadly, many Christians think that their religion is about keeping the commandments and if they do more good than bad in life they will go to heaven. For sure we have commandments and laws to guide us but ultimately Christianity is a Person, Jesus Christ and our relationship with him. Then the commandments will take their proper place. I can go to Mass on Sunday, say some prayers and do some good works which are very good actions. But I can miss out on the essential fact of Christianity, my relationship to Jesus, the Father, the Spirit and to my fellow human beings. Laws in themselves don’t give life.
We know deep down that life is about people, and people are about relationships, and relationships are about communication, sharing, forgiveness, all of which result in real love and friendship. Sometimes people who are lonely, or when they are old seek for something or someone to relate too. We may know people who live alone and who only have a cat or dog for company. But their need for a relationship of some kind is vital for them.
In the Christian life solidarity or a deep relationship with Jesus is the condition for bearing fruit. In the Old Testament, the part of the bible before the time of Jesus, there are a number of times when Israel is described as the vine planted by Yahweh. Sadly it often bore sour grapes because it had cut itself off from Yahweh. It did this by following false gods, worshipping idols of the surrounding peoples. Because it had abandoned Yahweh it got into all kinds of trouble. Eventually the Israelites were exiled for 70 years.
When we as Christians turn aside from worshipping God we naturally seek other gods to replace him. These maybe the gods of pleasure, money, status, drugs, sex or drink etc in a way that these are given a far too great importance in our lives. Usually at this stage we feel we don’t need God. Our own natural abilities will see us through whatever comes up in life. Yet Jesus today says very clearly, using the image of the vine that ‘cut off from him, we can do nothing’. The choice is ours. We can allow God to rule our lives or we feel we don’t need God. If we are trying to be faithful to God, he will prune or purify us in the sense that he will reveal to us what is not life-giving in our lives for ourselves and for those we relate to.
The image of the vine sketches a series of relationships of love which is the bond uniting the Father, Son and the disciples with each other. The key relationship is between Jesus and the disciples.
There is another beautiful image in today’s gospel, that of the ‘home’. Jesus says ‘make your home in me, as I make mine in you’. Isn’t he great to want to do this? Recently a friend was invited out to a business dinner by people he didn’t know too well. Obviously, he dressed fairly formally. He said at the meal because he didn’t know them well, the conversation was very polite and they were all a bit reserved. Then when he got home, he immediately changed into more comfortable clothes and slippers. He relaxed in an easy chair and chatted with his wife and family without having to watch his words. He was ‘at home’, he could relax and be himself. That is the kind of relationship Jesus is inviting to. He wants us to relax in his presence. When we pray we can tell him exactly how we feel or share our problems honestly knowing he will hear us with great love and compassion. We don’t need to put on any airs or graces. We can be ‘at home’ with him as he invites us to be.
“Lord Jesus, thank you for inviting us into a close relationship, a deep friendship with you. Help us to realize that only you can fulfill our deepest needs. May we express our gratitude to you by the way we reach out to all others, especially those in greatest need of our help and compassion. Amen”.
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA.