“Abide in me as I abide in you.”

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Acts 9:26-31

When Saul arrived in Jerusalem he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. Then Barnabas took charge of him and brought him to the apostles, and he reported to them how he had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus. He moved about freely with them in Jerusalem, and spoke out boldly in the name of the Lord. He also spoke and debated with the Hellenists, but they tried to kill him. And when the brothers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him on his way to Tarsus. The church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace. It was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord, and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit it grew in numbers.

1 John 3:18-24

Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth. 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. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence in God and receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And his commandment is this: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us. Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them, and the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit he gave us.

John 15:1-8

Jesus said to his disciples: "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. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Remain in me, as I remain in you. 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. Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples."

In the Old Testament, Israel is frequently portrayed as God’s choice vine (or vineyard); one that God nurtures with care but produces bitter fruits nonetheless (rf Hos 10:1, Is 5:1-7, Ez 17:5-10, Ps 79: 9-17). In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus proclaims that He is the vine, the vine of the New Israel. In union with Him, Christians of the New Israel will bear fruits that are pleasing to God the vine-dresser (rf Jn 15:5, 8). In the Old Testament, God often threatens to prune or even uproot the unproductive vine (rf Is 5:1-7, Jer 2:21, Ez 15:1-6, 19:10-14). In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus says those who do not abide in Him will be cast out, withered and burned in fire (rf Jn 15:6). In the Old Testament, Abraham is the ideal; he is the friend of God (rf Is 41:8, 2 Chr 20:7). In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus’ disciples outshine that of Abraham for abiding in Jesus, they can ask whatever they will and it shall be done to them (rf Jn 15:7).

Abiding in Jesus is of paramount importance. When Jesus speaks of the union with Him, it is not meant to be understood metaphorically or symbolically. It is not a moral or intellectual union either but a reality of our life in Christ, the reality of divine indwelling. This divine indwelling (perichoresis in Greek) is not a one-way imposition but a mutual interpersonal bond, an active and a passive relationship. It is active because it is something we have to do – “abide in me”; it is passive because we have to let Jesus to do in us – “as I abide in you” (Jn 15:4). It is like the relationship of the three Divine Persons of the Trinity, that of “being-in-one-another” and this is what makes Christian life peculiar. St. Paul describes this relationship effectively in his epistle to the Galatians “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).

Through Baptism, we bear the name of Christ as Christians and are able to share in His life. This reality is brought about in two ways. Externally, it is through the Sacraments. Our participation in the Church’s sacramental life is a participation in the mystery of God’s life. The experience of mutual indwelling is especially effected through the Blessed Eucharist (Holy Communion). Jesus Himself bears witness to the reality of this union when He said, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I in him” (Jn 6:56). Internally, this union with Jesus is a process of becoming Christ-like. Just like the life of the vine reproduces in the branches and causes them to bear fruits, Jesus works in us and reproduces His life in us. And the logical consequence of this mutual indwelling will be that of the imitation of Christ.

Identifying ourselves with Jesus is a choice. Abiding in Him is the will. When we deliberately decide to allow time for Jesus, to pray and talk to Him, to listen and read His words, to obey and do what He says and let go of things in our old life that are not Christ-like, we endeavour to be united with Him. Then in Christ’s view and with Christ’s mind, He will produce the fruit in us just like the vine brings forth fruits to the branches naturally (as long as the branches stay with the vine). The fruit is Christ-likeness – the likeness of God (rf Jn 10:30, 14:9).

How great is our privilege that God Himself shares His life with us through His son, Jesus. This privilege to share in the communion of the divine life is a work accomplished by Jesus for us. As God’s adopted children, we can now partake in the transcendent life of the Divinity here on earth (rf Gal 4:6, Rm 8:15, Heb 5:7). But it is absolutely necessary for us to be abound in Jesus in order to be transformed into God’s likeness. From Jesus the Vine comes the natural outflow of life and He is the source of our never ending renewal and transformation.

Posted: May 2, 2021

May Tam

 
May Tam, Bachelor of Social Science (University of Hong Kong), Master of Theological Studies (University of Toronto)


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