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Scripture Study: Fifth Sunday of Easter

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By Marc Massery (Apr 27, 2018)
Find the readings for this weekend here.

Sunday, April 27 — Fifth Sunday of Easter
1 Acts 9:26-31
• Ps 22:26-27, 28, 30, 31-32
• 1 Jn 3:18-24
• Jn 15:1-8

An hour from home and 20 miles away from the nearest gas station, driving down the highway with two passengers in my car, I noticed a red arrow on my dashboard tick down to "E." The gaslight flickered on.

But there was a priest in my passenger seat. He prayed a flying novena — 10 memorares — out loud, and with what seemed like the last few drops of fuel, we successfully navigated to the nearest gas station.

Unfortunately, my phone's GPS sent us to an abandoned Sunoco. I shut off my car to conserve energy while we considered our next move.

We spotted another gas station within sight on the other side of the highway. Thank God. I started my car again, turned around, and ignorantly drove down the highway ramp in the opposite direction of the open gas station, wasting precious gas. If you haven't figured it out yet, the Lord did not bless me with the best navigating skills.

Not trusting that my car could both make it to the gas station and follow traffic laws, I had to pick one. I chose gas. I stopped in the middle of the entrance ramp and drove the wrong way back up the highway. With a little grace, we finally made it. It felt good to finally fill up with the necessary fuel.

Because without gasoline, your car can do nothing.

In the Gospel reading this weekend, Jesus says, "Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing" (Jn 15:4-5). To fulfill our highest potential, we need to find all our sustenance in Christ. Just as a branch severed from a vine inevitably withers and dies, and just as a car without gasoline cannot drive, we begin to fall apart when we do not live entirely for Christ. He is the only Source of any power we have.

Jesus says, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit" (Jn 15:1-2). Every one of us has gone through suffering without understanding why God allowed it. During our trials, we may not feel the joy of the Gospel within our hearts. But it's during these moments especially that we must entrust ourselves to the Father.

In the Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, Jesus says, "The graces of My mercy are drawn by means of one vessel only, and that is — trust" (1578). To obtain the grace that He desires to give us, in these moments of pain we must trust that the Lord is pruning us with the intention of producing even more abundant fruit through us. As we suffer, we can find consolation in this truth, knowing that if we rebel in our pain, if we turn from the Lord, we will produce "nothing."

By remaining connected to Christ as best we can, we do not merely avoid destruction. Thanks to His grace, we even enjoy the satisfaction that comes with producing abundant fruit.

In the second reading, Scripture says, "Let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth" (1 Jn 3:18). Actions — the fruit we produce — will reveal the love we have in our hearts. No amount of talk about love should replace our need to acting lovingly.

This reading goes on to say, "Now this is how we shall know that we belong to the truth and reassure our hearts before him in whatever our hearts condemn, for God is greater than our hearts and knows everything" (1 Jn 3:19-20). Sometimes we may think we are producing good fruit, but we are doing the opposite — we are yielding rotten fruit. But thankfully, we have a merciful God who sees our intentions.

The Apostle Paul, for example, believed He was doing the Lord's will as he persecuted Christians. Of course, he later found out that he was persecuting the Lord Himself. God, though, looked beyond His rotten fruit, seeing the potential in Paul for growing great fruit for the Kingdom of God. So the Lord pruned him, allowing him to go blind in the few days following his conversion. He eventually let Paul experience the pain of a "thorn in [his] flesh" (2 Cor 12:7). Paul, however, did not rebel from this suffering. He accepted it, trusting that this was the Lord's way of helping Him reach his fullest potential.

In the first reading, Scripture says that Paul wanted to join the disciples after he arrived in Jerusalem following his radical conversion to Christ in Damascus. Scripture says, "But they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple" (Acts 9:26). The disciples heard about Paul's conversion, but they were not convinced that he had indeed changed. They likely assumed the worst — that he was trying to trick them with the intention of taking down even more Christians. They expected rotten fruit, not realizing that his source, his purpose now centered on Christ.

At first, only Barnabus recognized the truth of Paul's conversion. Barnabus knew that Paul was already producing good fruit in his short time as a Christian. Scripture says, "In Damascus, he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus" (Acts 9:27).

Scripture continues, "He also spoke and debated with the Hellenists, but they tried to kill him" (Acts 9:29). These Hellenists were the same Greek-speaking Jews that the first martyr, Stephen, had been part of before Paul approved his execution. By speaking to these Hellenists after his conversion, Paul was witnessing his new faith to the people he had previously harmed. This passage goes on to say that Paul then went back to his hometown of Tarsus, perhaps for the very same reason: to right his wrongs. He wanted to produce fruit in the places where he had initially tried to destroy it. He fed the people He had previously poisoned.

The fruit that the Lord wants to produce through all of us, of course, is the Gospel message. A message that not only brings us to experience the Lord's joy but enables us to bring that joy to others. Just as a car needs gas, just as a branch needs to remain connected to a vine, we need to rely entirely on Christ. He alone gives us the strength to do His will, supplying the grace we need to become the men and women we were destined to be.

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