May 3, 2015 – Fifth Sunday of Easter
St. John opens his salutation in our second reading from his first letter saying, “Let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and truth.” In many ways that sums up accurately the messages we receive in Holy Scripture on this Fifth Sunday of Easter. Often we hear the adage “Actions speak louder than words.” Truly in terms of stewardship what we do is much more important than what we might say.
Throughout this Easter season many of our first readings are from the Acts of the Apostles, a recounting of the early Church and its development. That early Church would not have survived and thrived without a strong sense of stewardship. Today’s first reading recounts the challenges Saul (St. Paul) had with the disciples in Jerusalem. Paul was not readily accepted, perhaps because they remembered what he had once done in persecuting them, or they were just at a time when trust of others was not high. In any case, note how Barnabas both accepts and introduces Paul to others as one of them. This is a lesson for us in how we treat others. It has a lot to do with the idea of hospitality, which is central to a stewardship parish. Barnabas loves and befriends, just as we are to do.
St. John takes that love explained and demonstrated in the first reading and expands it. St. John’s point is that we cannot just talk about love; we must carry it out with action. This ties in so directly with the first reading in that once we love others, are hospitable, warm and welcoming, we then must take that next step and reach out to others. That is the action element of stewardship — how do we reach out to and serve the poor and those in need. John also offers the transition to our Gospel message. “…we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as He commanded us.” It all ties together. We are called to love through stewardship, but we cannot really have the love we need if we do not seek it through the Lord. Mother Teresa once made reference to a problem in the world in that there were people who more or less loved humanity, but they did not love each person who made up that humanity. When we are called to love one another, it is very specific; we are to love each person individually and directly.
“I am the vine; you are the branches.” With those words in our Gospel from St. John, Jesus emphasizes the importance of our relationship with Him. It is to be more than a relationship; He abides in us and we are to abide in Him. It is a union that must and will produce fruit. You may not be aware that across the front of the Temple in Jerusalem was a carved golden vine. The vine represented the nation of Israel. Jesus often used references to vines and branches and fruits in His teaching. In this Gospel there are some subtle references that require knowledge of growing, nurturing, and harvesting the fruits of the vine. If you have ever seen a vineyard, the vines are often raised up and placed on poles. This allows them to get more sun and to develop more fully and to bear more fruit.
That is part of the message from Jesus in this Gospel. If we will allow Him to lift us up, we, too, will feel His presence more fully; as a result our faith and our actions will develop more fully; and we, too, will bear the fruit to build the Kingdom and to carry out our lives of stewardship more effectively. Thus from the love described in the first reading, to the active type of love to which we are called in the second reading, to the shared love with and of the Lord in the Gospel that allows us to be His disciples, we are more complete, more satisfied.