Reflections on the Readings for 5th Sunday of Easter 2021
The Acts of the Apostles covers about 30 years of the story of the early Christian Community after the Ascension and, at times, there are big gaps in what is recounted. So, for example by Paul’s own reckoning (cf. Gal. 1) the visit to Jerusalem recounted in today’s Reading was about three years after his conversion experience on the Road to Damascus. We hear that the community then sent him from Jerusalem, via Caeserea, to his home city of Tarsus, where he remained for at least ten more years before his next appearance only two chapters later in the Book of Acts. This condensed account can leave us with the impression that the missionary effort of the early community was spectacularly successful in a matter of days or weeks. Whilst there is no doubt about the courage and boldness of their preaching, like Paul in today’s account, it was in fact a long slog to take the Good News to so many places. We can take encouragement for this as we engage in the slow process of our own missionary efforts today.
1 Jn. 3:18-24
The call to active love of others is clear from the opening words of today’s extract from this First Letter of St John, from which our Second Readings are derived during this Year B of the Cycle of Readings. Although the translation used in our Lectionary refers to our “conscience” being the arbiter of our active love, the actual Greek word used here is “kardia” (heart). This is the translation used in the current New Revised Jerusalem Bible (NRJB). The whole passage leads up to a climax in the final verses where, once again, the idea of God “indwelling” in every true disciple is given. This “indwelling” will become in later writings, outside the New Testament, the basis of what we understand by the word “grace”.
The theme of “indwelling” continues in this Gospel passage. Here the word “remain”, or sometimes “abide”, has this same meaning. Rather like the image of the Body of Christ this image of the vine – known from the Old Testament as an image of Israel – expresses our organic connection with Jesus himself. As with any vine the aim is to “bear much fruit”, which is a beautiful image, except when we remember just how savage the pruning process is for the vine. Anyone who has passed through areas where vines are grown will know the abundant greenery and fruit associated with the time leading up to the harvest, but the same vines after the harvest are pruned back almost to the ground in readiness for the next growing season.