1st Reading – The Acts of the Apostles 9: 26-31
Luke uses the disbelief of the community to stress just how radical Saul’s/Paul’s transformation is. The Lord’s work is revealed through events that ‘upset’ human expectation. As always, Luke presents God as the ultimate Surprise. We as church can have difficulty keeping up with such a God – unless like the gospel suggests we stay rooted in God – and allow God to remain in us. (Birmingham, W& W Wkbk for Yr B, 384-385)
For Paul’s version of his conversion and later visit to Jerusalem, read Galatians 1:11-24.
Reflect on the friendship of Paul and Barnabas. The other apostles were afraid of Paul until Barnabas stood up for him. It was after this support that they began to see the change in Paul and be confident enough to send him on to Tarsus (possibly his hometown). Then we learn how the church is built up because of the Holy Spirit. Aren’t these related? When we free ourselves from our fear, it allows the Holy Spirit to work wonders, within us and through us. When we have spiritual friends to stand with us, we are strengthened and nourished in a deeply moving way. Mary DeTurris Poust in Walking Together says, “…when we focus our hearts, minds, and spirits on loving God and serving others….suddenly – or maybe not so suddenly – our innate human inclination to protect and preserve our own well-being starts to open up in a way that reveals a softness, a generosity, a desire to give rather than to get,” (p, 24-25). Do you find this to be true in your life?
Why was Paul sent to Tarsus? NT White says, “It’s hard to know what the Jerusalem community thought would happen next. They were in dangerous, unmapped, new territory. Saul of Tarsus, still on fire with having seen the risen Lord, eager to explain from the scriptures what it was all about, apparently careless of the hornets’ nests he was stirring up, was one problem too many. [Perhaps they thought] ‘Let him go back to Tarsus. They like good talkers there. And besides, that’s where he came from in the first place…’,” Paul, A Biography, p. 67-68.
2nd Reading – 1 John 3: 18-24
Although this letter can be repetitious and fragmented in many ways, today’s reading has an emerging theme: Christians can be assured of salvation if they follow the command to love one another. Our two primary concerns as Christians must be to love the Lord and to love one another. Evidence of our relationship with God, God’s indwelling within us, will be how we live this in our everyday lives. (Birmingham, W& W Wkbk for Yr B, 386)
Our life of faith must bear fruit in love and service – words are empty shams and lies when our lives do not live out our words. Love is action that embodies the truth. But we are also assured that God is “greater than our hearts and all is known to God.” This is our hope. God know our sins and weaknesses but also our longings and intentions that go too often unfulfilled. If we can stay united to the Vine and trust this source of life – then all that happens can bring forth good fruit. As Mother Teresa once said , God does not demand our success; God wants our faithfulness. (Celebration, May 2000)
The Gospel – John 15: 1-8
The verb, which is translated “to abide with” or “to stay with” or “to remain”
is used more than 67 times in the Gospel and the Letters of John. Why do you think that this verb was so important? How is it important to you?
The people of Israel saw the vine and its branches as an apt symbol for themselves and their relationship with God. Jesus saw in this image his own relationship with God and with us. Perhaps it was the one sturdy branch which gives life to so many branches or the intertwining of the branches, the gnarled and twisted way in which the vine grows, that spoke to Jesus. Or, perhaps he wanted to remind us that there are many pathways to growth: as united believers we need our share of curves, bumps and detours to produce the Spirit’s fruits. (Celebration, May, 2000)
John’s gospel in this passage is a profound expression of God’s love for his people. Jesus is the ‘sacrament’ of this love: the real, tangible, touchable expression of the Father’s love for us. In the person of Jesus of Nazareth we can come to know the face and care of this God of love. Jesus desires nothing more than that we be united in him as he is with the Father — to “remain in God and God in us.” Jesus is our way home. Jesus reveals God, and the church is called to reveal and be Jesus. We need to live and experience this love in our community, in the liturgy, in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist. Love forgives a multitude of sins. M. Birmingham, W and W rkbk for Year B, 387-388
For a vine regular pruning is necessary in order to achieve maximum fruitfulness. Dead branches must be removed to preserve the vitality of the vine. As this pruning produces new tiny tender green tendrils they reach out in all directions from the vine. Gradually these tendrils develop into sturdy branches that allow the vine to flourish. Henri Nouwen says that this image of the ‘healthy need’ for pruning might help us to gain a new perspective on growth and suffering. With the ‘sap’ of Jesus’ Spirit flowing into us the painful rejections and loneliness and difficulties of our lives can become a means of growth as they prune away that which is not life-giving so that we grow closer to the One who is. (Celebration, May, 2000 & 2006)