Recently I drove through a section of Missouri that has many vineyards. At this time of the year in our region, the vines have barely started to green up and grow. What is most apparent is the pruning that happened at the end of last season. There are little stubs of the vines sticking out of the soil and few, if any, green leaves — and certainly no grapes.
Reading the Scriptures for this the fifth Sunday of Easter reminds me of the pruning of the vines. Even though the pruning looks very harsh, it is essential for the grapes to continue to be bountiful and delicious. I can personally vouch for the fact that the past years’ grapes made some mighty delicious wine.
The Gospel uses the image of the vineyard to describe our relationship with Jesus. We know that no branch of a vine would, of its own accord, separate itself from the vine because it would die. When we stretch the image of the vine to a human being and a community and our relationship with Jesus, we each must admit that we have severed our relationship with Jesus from time to time or with other members of the community. If we take a moment to look back at some choices we have made to sever those relationships, we can see how the separation robs us of access to Jesus.
We may not know the effect that our example has on others who watch us. Others, especially children, look to us for examples of how to live. Parents and grandparents know this all too well — children are like sponges. Bosses and pastors and leaders of groups have a responsibility to set a great example of keeping relationships intact instead of severing them.
I’ve often noticed how often fear is brought up in these post-Easter, pre-Pentecost readings. To me it’s pretty simple why it’s here. Fear is often the reason we give for severing relationships or refusing to be in a relationship with another. Fear is often the reason why we sever our relationship with Jesus, since it seems like He asks a radical life of us and that scares us. So we separate ourselves from the vine and choose to live a mediocre life, if we can call that life at all.
Imagine being confronted by St. Paul right after his conversion. He tried to kill you a few weeks before, and now you are being asked to welcome him into your home. Your generosity, hospitality and forgiveness are being asked of you toward someone who had been committed to hurting you.
Thank God for somebody like St. Barnabas who stood up for Paul and vouched for him in the community. Thank God they were people in the community who were willing to welcome him into their homes and families. Can you imagine what your reaction would be if you were asked to trust someone’s conversion that is so new? Have you ever questioned someone’s deathbed conversion as convenient rather than authentic? Have you decided that someone or some group of people is beyond redemption and would be willing to hurt or kill them?
We are preparing to celebrate Pentecost. Instead of it simply being another Pentecost when we talk about something that happened in the very far past, let’s figure out what Pentecost needs to look at like today, in each of our own lives and in our families. Is it really true that we want to live a mediocre faith life, cutting us off from the true vine and following Jesus’ example? Where will the spirit take us if we truly remain connected to the vine, allow ourselves to be pruned by the vine grower and willing to be faithful enough to bear good fruit in the world today?
Father Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.