Acts of the Apostles 9:26-31
When Saul arrived in Jerusalem he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. Then Barnabas took charge of him and brought him to the apostles, and he reported to them how he had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus. He moved about freely with them in Jerusalem, and spoke out boldly in the name of the Lord. He also spoke and debated with the Hellenists, but they tried to kill him. And when the brothers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him on his way to Tarsus. The church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace. It was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord, and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit it grew in numbers.
1 John 3:18-24
Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth. Now this is how we shall know that we belong to the truth and reassure our hearts before him in whatever our hearts condemn, for God is greater than our hearts and knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence in God and receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And his commandment is this: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us. Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them, and the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit he gave us.
Gospel Cycle Cycle B
Jesus said to his disciples: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
Last week the Lord assured us that He is our Good Shepherd. This week, almost as a footnote, he reminds us that His love is a love that will transform us and that in order to be transformed, we must be pruned. This changes the imagery from last week. No longer do we have the Good Shepherd, but now we have the vine (Christ), the vine grower (God the Father) and the branches (us).
Always it is difficult to speak about the challenges of living as followers of Christ. We want so much to know that we are loved. Any talk of pruning us back seems, by some, to be interpreted as not loving. Part of following Christ is accepting that God has a plan for His creation. We are not just created to be whatever we want to be. We are created by God as part of an enormous outpouring of the Father’s love, all of which is part of the plan of creation.
Anyone who gardens knows that gardening demands putting in some plants and taking out others and keeping others under control. If there is no plan, there is no garden but only a person watching nature unfold. Lots of people today want the plan of creation simply to be nature unfolding—until they realize that nature of itself is broken and left to unfold of itself, creates chaos and immense suffering and problems.
Our reading from the Acts of the Apostles points out what happened in the case of Saul/Paul. He was bent on eradicating Christians and then is converted. No one trusted him at that point. His reputation was as a destroyer. Now, what he had planted earlier had to be pulled up and transformed.
The reading from the First Letter of Saint John shows us why we need pruning and transformation: his commandment is this: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us. To love one another is only possible with pruning and transformation. As we are told over and over in the Scriptures: it is easy to love those who love us but not easy to love those who are our enemies. The command of the Lord is clear: Love your enemies as yourselves.
My sisters and brothers, let us ask for this grace of pruning and transformation every day. Let us ask for the grace to accept whatever hardship and suffering comes our way as we walk the road of the Lord. If we know His love, we are able to love in return: loving God and our neighbor.