5th Week of Easter, Wednesday, May 5
Acts 15:1-6 / John 15:1-6
Jesus talks about being one with him; "Remain in me, as I remain in you. "
Paul Claudel's play The Satin Slipper opens with a dramatic scene: a shipwreck at sea. The sole survivor is a missionary who has tied himself to the mainmast.As it pitches and tosses on the great waves, the missionary senses that death is near. So, he prays in words like these:
"O Lord, I thank you for letting me die like this. Sometimes I found your teaching hard, and sometimes I fought your will. But now I could not be bound more closely to you. My body cannot free itself from this cross on which I die. Nor would I want it to be free, for it makes me feel a special closeness to you."
How closely are we united to Christ? "By his union with us, he is the Son of Man; by our union with him, we are sons of St. God." Augustine
After nearly four years of the first mission tour, Paul and Barnabas came back to Antioch. In this cosmopolitan city there was great joy when they heard of the churches founded and the great number of Gentiles that joined. Yet they ran into unexpected difficulties. Some men came down from Judaea. They demanded that all those converts from paganism be circumcised and observe the Law of Moses. Unless they do that, they are not Christians and cannot expect salvation. In Jerusalem there were still many who remembered that Jesus was circumcised and that he had said "I have not come to abolish the law, but to fulfil it". They knew that Jesus sent the Apostles into the whole world to every nation, but they argued that Jesus did not mention the conditions under which they were to be admitted. Many of those had been Pharisees. They had changed the garb, but what about the heart? The question was really: Christian Freedom. They wanted to impose the yoke of the law. They hoped James, the bishop of Jerusalem, was with them. He was a relative of Jesus and a truly holy man. He was of the strict Jewish observance and spent daily hours praying in the temple on his knees, which were said to be as hard as a camel's.
Implanted by baptism in Christ, the true vine, and therefore, by vocation and by our being Christians, we are called to be one in him, however we often fall apart into factions because of our background of land and culture, regionalisms and differences of language, social origins and classes, conservatives against progressives. So, it was in the early Church: Christians discriminated because of their pagan origins, different parties even among those of Jewish extraction. Are we any better? No wonder that we bear little fruit… Let the Lord prune and purify us and unite us all in Christ as branches on the same vine.
Most of us are honest people and we believe in the integrity of the truth. Yet we also cannot dismiss the fact that we come from a specific cultural and social background and our understanding of the truth can be heavily influenced by this background. So, when truth is mixed with a certain personal cultural background, it may be as difficult as trying to separate the wheat from the weeds. But as in the wisdom of the parable of the wheat and weeds, the time will come when they will be slowly separated.
In the 1st reading, we can see how truth is mixed with personal cultural and social backgrounds, or half-truths if we wish to use that word. The issue is not just about circumcision but rather the heavy underlying religious background of the Jewish converts, because they believed that Christianity should include some of the fundamental Jewish religious practices, and one of which is circumcision. It even became a criterion for salvation, so much so that the apostles and elders had to look into the matter. Yet as Jesus talked about Him being the vine and we the branches in the gospel, He also talked about pruning.
Yes, in order to be truly in union with Jesus and to understand His truth, we need to be pruned of the half-truths and the other influences that distort the truth. Jesus is the Truth. And the truth of salvation is that He loves us and wants to save us from sin and damnation. Let us understand the essence of this fundamental truth and to bear the fruits of truth and salvation.
Lord our God, loving Father, you have given us your Son, Jesus Christ, as the true vine of life and our source of strength. Help us to live his life as living branches attached to the vine, and to bear plenty of fruits of justice, goodness and love. Let our union with him become visible in our openness to one another and in our unity as brothers and sisters, that he may be visibly present among us, now and for ever. Amen