Reflections from Fr Claude

Fifth Sunday of Easter

For my ancestors, spirituality was a matter of thinking globally and acting locally. The visionary wisdom of indigenous people looks out into the vastness of time and space. And yet, as mystical as they may be, indigenous traditions are rooted deeply into a particular place with a particular people. They are local and they are daily – that transformative context where the sacred becomes a way of life.

Steven Charleston, Native American Elder and Episcopalian Bishop

‘When you remove the risk, you remove the challenge.

When you remove the challenge, you wither on the vine.’

Alex Lowe

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. 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 in relationship to the ‘other’. The invitation is to continually grow in love and have the courage to change. 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 not possible without the ‘pruning’ that wakes us up and calls us out of our comfort zones, that challenges our political and religious beliefs, how the scriptures are read, and how we relate to others either with respect, or paternalism, control and domination.  Advocacy means asking the hard and unpopular questions and looking at how our decisions and lifestyles affect others. It is a mistake to see this image as part of cosy connection with Jesus. Our connection with him means recognising his closeness, presence, and investment in people who are cast aside. It means recognising, as Jesus noticed, people who were excluded.


The gospel is not a cosy intimate story of being connected with Jesus. It has nothing to do with privilege. 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 looking 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 ones that the Good Samaritan would stop for.


Randy Woodley, in ‘White Supremacy and the Fate of the Earth’ (Sojourners Magazine, May 2021) writes that our environmental crisis is rooted in a European worldview which requires humility. He said that people in the West are beginning to realise that nature is wiser and more powerful than they think, as are Indigenous people who have lived in connection with Creation, ‘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 because we tend to see ourselves as the highest form of life on earth, and some of us as the most valuable members of society.  Woodley’s article suggests, as so many others, that a more sustainable and Indigenous worldview should be adopted 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 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’ which leads to true humility that deconstructs our power and sense of superiority. Jesus taught us to be humble and serve other rather than dominate others. It also applies to creation and 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.


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 would prefer to see Jesus as soft and wimpish to support inactivity, passivity and individualism. But Jesus always directs us toward engagement and renewed activity. His words, ‘Remain or abide in me’ are comforting and reassuring, but actually carry a responsibility to continually make this abiding a reality with the ‘other’.


It challenges us to ask: how big is our ‘we’? This ‘remain’ is not a passive remaining but an active remaining and mutual remaining. We are interconnected and interdependent. It requires mutuality and reciprocity. It is not possible if we act as superior to creation and to others. It is not possible if fail to recognise the image of God in others such as women because of Christian patriarchy where God is gendered as exclusively male. The gospel image today is an opportunity to break that patriarchal monopoly on the symbols we use for God that exclude many. In this context, we ask how big is our ‘we’ as a nation and ‘church?’  With regard to asylum seekers and refugees, women, people with disability, the aged, LGBTIQA+ people, people of other faiths, do we build more psychological and physical barriers (e.g., Australia’s sovereign borders or hurtful and excluding teaching on gender diversity) rather than bridges?  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 do not ‘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. No terms and conditions.


What should be the fruit of the lives of those who claim to follow that Jesus? What does it mean for us to live as Jesus did? Clearly, his priorities need to be our priorities. It was always the dignity of the person in the image of God. He cared about economic justice for the poor and how much do we promote housing for the houseless and care of the aged in our community. His care for the marginalised could be replicated in our promotion of human rights for our LGBTIQA+ sisters and brothers including those, because of their status, seek safety in our country. His care about liberation of the oppressed might extend to liberation for people in prison many of whom need medical care rather than custodial treatment.  His care for the sick might cause us to ensure that there is universal health care for all. His teaching on nonviolent resistance to all injustice could include resisting and protesting the drive to spend and divert funds to violence ends rather than to social good. It is in the specifics that show us up to be people who live as Jesus lived, to be people who remain in him, and bear fruit that reflects that of Jesus. In other words, is if life-giving or life-inhibiting for vulnerable people?  Is our presence a blessing or a curse for others? ‘Whoever claims to remain in him must live as Jesus did.’ (1 John 2:6)


War, violence, walls, borders and exclusiveness mock the Risen One who was passionate about life, peace and justice calls us to do life differently. 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 in the world.



We are one in heart and many in mind.

Spiritual unity is possible when people do not have to agree with one another to love one another.

Our kindness, compassion and support come from the heart as we live together in peace.

At the same time, our ideas, visions and opinions may vary widely

as we continue our creative work together for the common good.

We are one in heart and many in mind.

Bishop Steven Charleston, Native American Elder


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