Christ the True Vine, icon, 16th century, Лоза Истинная (Виноградная лоза), Byzantine and Christian Museum, Athens.
Word format: Year B Easter 5th Sunday 2015
Pdf format: Year B Easter 5th Sunday 2015
“I am the vine, you are the branches.” What does this mean for our relationship with Christ, the incarnate God?
Jesus is not simply an inspiring teacher to whom we listen. He is a force in which we participate, a body in which we are cells and molecules, a river in which we swim. (Fr Robert Barron)
In today’s Gospel, Jesus says
Make your home in me, as I make mine in you.
This means we have to immerse ourselves in his Word, and constantly invite the Holy Spirit to invade our minds with His thoughts. If we do this, suddenly we find that the whole orientation of our life changes. We start to desire what God desires as our minds become moulded and grafted onto God’s. We want to fit in with his Divine Plan, instead of dictating to him what we think his Divine Plan ought to be.
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.
Our culture today would interpret the above words of Jesus as being ‘judgmental’ and not at all ‘inclusive’. How can God create us, just to throw us away? God in fact doesn’t want to throw us away. That is why he is asking us to listen to him, to remain in him, because if we in our arrogance, ignorance or laziness don’t even take time to do those things, we will end up throwing ourselves away. Everything we do is a choice – closer to him or further away from him. Here’s Fr Barron again, in a 2009 article titled ‘What the Hell‘:
Now rocks, trees, planets, animals, and stars respond to the divine love just by being what they are. But God made human beings in his own image and likeness, which is to say, he endowed them with mind and will and thereby invited them to respond to his love, not simply by the goodness of their being but by the integrity of their freedom. He wanted them to have the opportunity to participate personally in the love that he is. But this freedom carried with it, necessarily, a shadow, namely, the possibility of abuse. We who have been made in God’s image, can decide not to live in accord with that image; we who have been invited to answer God’s love with our love can answer it instead with resistance. To stand athwart the divine love, to run counter to the image of God within us, to turn away from the sun that shines on us whether we like it or not, is to suffer. It is like a furnace; it is a kind of torture; it is to be in a place of tears and the gnashing of teeth. I’m purposely using imagery for Hell here, because the definitive state of this resistance to God, the final No to God from the depths of one’s being, is precisely what the church means by Hell. And perhaps now we can begin to see why this doctrine hasn’t a thing to do with God “sending” anyone to a terrible place or “condemning” anyone to an eternal prison. As C.S. Lewis put it, “the door to Hell is always locked from the inside,” for it is always our perverse freedom, and not the divine choice, that locks us away from God. Lewis offered another extremely helpful point of clarification when he said that the love of God lights up the fires of Hell. He meant that the suffering of Hell is caused by the very same power that produces the delight of Heaven, namely, the love that God simply is. The difference between Heaven and Hell is a function of our freedom: in the first case, it opens itself to God, and in the second case, it turns away from God. A homey image might help. There are two people at the same party. One is caught up in the joy, rhythm, music, and laughter of the gathering, and he’s having the time of his life; the other, sunk in moody self-regard, resenting the joy of those around him, sulks in irritation, tortured by the very exuberance of the party itself.
Of course, if we follow God only because we are frightened by threats of Hell, our faith is pretty weak. Why is it that we’re so bad at describing the joy of the abundant living we receive from God? This is something that Christians need to become better at – and perhaps we should spend more of our time describing the joyful answers to prayer that we receive, the Evangelii Gaudium and the ecstasy of a life of intense prayer.
If you remain in me and my words remain in you,
you may ask what you will and you shall get it.
When a soul aligned with Him in obedience and love asks for a favour, God will satisfy the deepest longings his or her heart. What are your hearts deepest longings, and do they fit in with God’s Word?