Fifth Sunday of Easter
‘When you remove the risk, you remove the challenge.
When you remove the challenge, you wither on the vine.’
The gospel image takes us back to Isaiah 5:1-7 where God looks for good fruit (justice love and peace) but finds only wild grapes. In looking for justice, right relationship, God heard only the cries of people being exploited. For one to see and to respond calls for a ‘pruning’ that awakens us to reach out to the other and advocate on their behalf. Advocacy is difficult and may not seem successful or popular. This is not possible without the ‘pruning’ that wakes us up and calls us out of our comfort zones, that challenges our political and religious beliefs and even the way we read the scriptures or relate to others with respect or paternalism, control and domination.
The image of the vine — like that of the shepherd, bread of life, each describe how God reaches out to creation in love. Each statement also invites response. We must continually choose who we want to be and that is always in relationship to the ‘other’. This invitation is to continually grow in love.
We have a platform in the gospel for lifting up peoples whether they are homeless, hungry, victims of violence, vilified for any reason, and strangers, as well as for our responsibility to address those needs. The gospel points out that knowing God, loving our neighbour and doing justice are intimately connected and part of the one reality.
The gospel is not a cosy intimate story of being connected with Jesus. It has nothing to do with privileged or white supremacy. Being connected with him means recognising him in the people who are cast aside by society. It means recognising, as Jesus noticed, people who were excluded. This is what we call today ‘the option for the poor’. When God looks for good fruit or good grapes, God is looking at people who do not share in the structures of privilege and power and miss out from the benefits of society. These are the ones Jesus noticed, talked about and loved by identifying with them. These are the one that the Good Samaritan would stop to care for. The recent summit that President Biden initiated with some 40 other world leaders on climate had our Prime Minister again putting a priority on reducing taxes for the privileged rather than addressing the needs of people and the planet. He was seeking to protect the interests of one group above the needs of the vulnerable and the poor. Advocacy means asking the hard and unpopular questions as well as looking at how our decisions and lifestyles affect others.
In a recent article ‘White Supremacy and the Fate of the Earth’ in Sojourners Magazine (May 2021) by Randy Woodley expresses the view that our environmental crisis is rooted in a European worldview which requires humility. This is the pruning raised in the gospel. He said that we in the West are just beginning to realise that nature is wiser and more powerful than we are not to mention the presence of Indigenous people who have lived in connection with Creation by observing and flow with it rather than dominating to their benefit. He says, ‘Indigenous wisdom’s long relationship with creation is based on an ethic of harmony, humility, and respect’. We seldom consider white supremacy as the cause of ongoing ecological damage to our world and the damage caused to Indigenous people, biodiversity, and ultimately to all people. It is not possible to bear the fruit of the vine that the gospel requires when we see ourselves as the highest form of life on earth and the most valuable members of society with white privilege and white normalcy.
The article referred to earlier suggests that we must adopt a more sustainable and Indigenous worldview by understanding our relationship to the whole community of creation towards a mindset that holistic, equitable, and cooperative. We need to see each other and the planet as a relative where no one is exploited. Pope Francis in his challenging Apostolic Exhortation, Querida Amazonia, reminds us that it is the poorest and most marginalised people on earth who suffer the most from corporate imperialism’s extraction, depletion, and poisoning of the earth’s natural resources. The cure for this is ‘pruning’ leads to true humility where our own power and sense of superiority is deconstructed. Jesus taught his disciples to be humble and not rule over others as the Gentiles do but serve one another. This applies to creation and all the goods of the earth. If anything, the image in the gospel again reminds us that must treat one another and creation as relatives and that we are called to be good relatives.
We are still in Easter and we reflect upon the truth: Jesus lives, and lives amongst us, and calls us to do life differently. Dorothy Sayers, in The Greatest Drama Ever Staged writes, “We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him ‘meek and mild,’ and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.” Many Christians like to see Jesus as something of a wimp that supports inactivity or individualism. It is more comfortable to sit than be active. But Jesus always directs us toward activity and engagement. His words, ‘Remain in me’ or ‘Abide in me’ might be comforting and reassuring, but more is expected of us. It carries a responsibility to continually make this remaining and abiding a reality with the other.
‘Remain in me’ causes us to ask: how big is our ‘we’? We are interconnected and interdependent and that requires mutuality and reciprocity. This ‘remain’ is not a passive remaining but an active remaining and mutual remaining. It is not possible when we act as if we are superior to creation and to others. How big is our ‘we’ as a nation and as a ‘church’? It applies to asylum seekers and refugees as much as women in the church. What approach will we take as individuals and communities? Do we respond by building more barriers (border protection) or changing words in our liturgy to make God seem more remote and make us look more ‘Catholic’? Sadly, more and more people find the church community as not being helpful in remaining close to Christ. We are quite happy to recommend the ‘pruning’ of others to make them acceptable to us: women, Muslim people, the stranger, and the gay and lesbian person. But we also need to ‘prune’ ourselves of prejudices, grudges, unwillingness to forgive, failures to welcome diversity and difference in people and cultures, intolerance and arguments over dogma, looking at (not necessarily abandoning) our belief systems, our image of God, our political beliefs, behaviour that might be paternalistic, controlling or dominating are questioned or challenged. Being inclusive means more than bringing many diverse people together; it is about how we experience and engage each other. Our love and commitment betray who we are connected to.
War, violence and exclusiveness mock the Risen One who calls us to do life differently, the One who was passionate about life, peace and justice.
We are an interconnected human community, part of a global family, responsible for one another. Our actions or lack of action has consequences. As branches grafted on Jesus we are called to be his heart that can see him in wounded and hurting people.