Homily for 5th Sunday of Easter
May 10, 2009
Acts 9: 26-31
1 John 3: 18-24
John 15: 1-8
“[Saul] moved about freely with [the apostles] in Jerusalem, and spoke out boldly in the name of the Lord” (Acts 9: 28).
We’re all familiar with the story of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, or St. Paul, on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-19). Perhaps we’re less familiar with what he does immediately after accepting Jesus as the Son of God (9:20) and Messiah (9:22). He starts to preach that message in the synagogs of Damascus, and eventually he has to flee for his life (9:23-25). He comes to Jerusalem, where—despite what happened in Damascus—all the disciples are still afraid of him, as we heard in the reading (9:26). The apostles prove to be a little braver—in contrast to their behavior while Jesus was still in his earthly existence; but now they are filled with the Holy Spirit. So they meet Paul and accept him, and he joins them in preaching the name of Jesus in Jerusalem—to such an extent, with such boldness, that once again his life is endangered, the Greek-speaking Jews plot against his life, and again he has to flee (9:29-30).
The zeal of converts often does fire them up so that they become more enthusiastic about their new faith—and this doesn’t apply only to religious faith—than those born to it. In Paul’s case he’s eager to live up to Jesus’ words that we heard in the gospel: “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit” (John 15:5). He wants to be apostolically fruitful by leading more people to Jesus and to eternal life. As you know, he’ll eventually spend the rest of his life—perhaps another 35 years—doing just that all over the places that today we call Syria, Turkey, Cyprus, Greece, and Rome.
Boldly and incessantly preaching Jesus is one way of trying to be fruitful as one of the branches belonging to the true vine (cf. John 15:1). It’s not the only way.
I would say that the very 1st way to be fruitful with the divine life that has been given to us thru Jesus is to pray: to give praise to the Father out of gratitude for his mercy, for his goodness to us in Jesus Christ; and to intercede for the whole world that Jesus came to redeem. Jesus suggests as much when he tells his followers, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you” (15:7). So it is that we come together as a community of disciples of Jesus every weekend to praise and thank the Father in our Eucharistic celebration, and to intercede for the world, the living and the dead—in our general intercessions as well as in intercessions that form part of the Eucharistic Prayer.
The 2d way we can be fruitful is by our good works. St. John’s constant refrain in his 1st letter is: “Let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth. Beloved, we have confidence in God…because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him” (1 John 3:21-22). This doesn’t mean that our good works earn us salvation; it means that God’s salvation blossoms forth—bears fruit—in good works, in works of love, of truth, of respect, of honesty, of mercy. And, on the contrary, anyone who doesn’t do good works, or who does evil works, is a barren branch that the vinedresser, the Father, will have to cut off the vine and cast into the fire (cf. John 15:1-2,6). The barrenness indicates that there’s just no divine life flowing thru that branch.
The 3d way we can be fruitful is related a little to what Paul did, but it’s low key. The branch can bear fruit by teaching Jesus. The psalm today says, “Let the coming generation be told of the Lord that they may proclaim to a people yet to be born the justice he has shown” (22:32). Each of us is responsible to some degree for passing on the story of Jesus, the message of salvation, from our generation to the next generations, to our children and grandchildren. We are responsible for living honestly and truthfully among our neighbors, and if occasion presents, answering their questions about what we believe, about WHOM we believe. “His commandment is this: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 3:23). It’s so easy to fudge what we really believe, what we know to be right, when we’re afraid it won’t meet the approval of our children or our neighbors. But Paul teaches us to be courageous, and John reminds us that “we know that [God] remains in us from the Spirit he gave us” (3:24).