Fifth Sunday of Easter

A Great Life

First Reading ( Acts 9:26-31 ) : Paul became one of the apostles
Second Reading ( 1 Jn 3:18-24 ) : In God we keep God's commandments
Gospel ( Jn 15:1-8 ) : The parable of the vine and branches
Chinese classics:
“Heaven and humans are united as one.”(1)
“All people are my brothers and sisters; all created things are my companions.”(2)
“When I am reading passages from the sages, their wisdom enlightens my mind.” (3)

“I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing... My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” (Jn 15: 5-8)

I try to imagine what kind of a picture we could draw to show that Jesus is in us all and we are all in Jesus. What kind of a situation would that be? What would our relationship with each other be?

I think that when Jesus spoke of the 'vine and branches' it wasn't just a parable. Nor was he just depicting the depth of human love in an exaggerated manner. What he said was real. He was revealing a real life situation, a GREAT LIFE in which the whole of humanity is tied. Of course the source of this great life is the Father and its center is Christ Jesus “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.” (Jn 15:1)

If we want to live within this one Great Life, we must be united closely to Jesus: “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.”(Jn 15:4) This union is not just 'superficial faith' in Jesus, for he said, “Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”(Mt 7:21) Jesus made it very clear that if we rely only on 'superficial faith,' we cannot be united closely to him, nor with him be part of that one GREAT LIFE.

In today's second Reading from 1 John, the author says, “Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action... this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who keep his commandments abide in him, and he in them.” (1 Jn 3:18-24). John's meaning is that at the same time as we 'believe in Jesus' we must add, 'do as Jesus told us, love one another'. Only that is Christian faith.

Jesus' entire message, God's commandment, the most important spirit of the entire Bible, can be summarized in the one word, “Love.” 1 John says simply, “God is love”(1 Jn 4:7). Those who abide in love, abide in God. Love is not the prerogative of Christians alone, nor is God the God of Christians only.

When God created human beings, he placed within each one of us the seed of life and love. At the time of creation God had already determined to save all of humankind; of course this depends entirely on the merits of Christ. Some people are saved through their faith in the Lord, some through the response of their life and conscience. But both groups respond by love which shows in their actions and by their willingness to 'abide by God's command' to love others. It is love that makes us one with Jesus as the vine with the branches, and it is this same love that unites us one with the other. We have reason to believe that 'all persons of good will,' whether Christian or not, can be united to Jesus, the vine, and that in Jesus all people can be united with each other.

The Chinese sages sought earnestly for “Heaven and humankind united as one.”(1) The concept that “all people are my brothers and sisters and all created things are my companions,”(2) appealed to them. They believed that we human beings could transcend the limitations of space and time and commune in spirit with the sages of ancient times. “When I am reading passages from the sages, their wisdom enlightens my mind.” (3)

In the image of the vine and branches, we should think of two concepts simultaneously. First of course is Jesus and our union with him. But we also should think that in our union with Jesus we are also united with all peoples and created matter in the universe. Therefore, Christians should be aware that nature and all peoples and created matter are part of that one GREAT LIFE. Human beings within the universe, the universe united with human beings; ourselves united with other people and they with us. In God and in Christ, we all partake of the one Life, “blood and teeth,” body and soul, joy and suffering. All people, then, are the object of our love. We must open our hearts and our lives, reach out to all in love.

If we have an opportunity to stand at the top of a high mountain, we can look all around and see far off. We can almost 'taste' the great expanse and appreciate anew that this earth is our home and that it is a gift from God. And in the soft blowing of the breeze we can feel we are being touched by the breath of God. And in God and all peoples and created things we are being taken up into the bosom of the boundless love of this one GREAT LIFE.

(1)天人合一。
(2)民胞物與。
(3)風簷展書讀,古道照顏色。