Last Sunday we heard the gospel of the good Shepherd in which we were urged to give ourselves generously to the service of Christ even if this should mean the ultimate sacrifice. Today’s gospel is more stark but it says that if we do not remain in Christ we will wither on the vine and be thrown in to the furnace. To many that might seem like a promise of eternal damnation. Is such a proposition fair? Can’t I simply just wander through life not getting too involved, nor upsetting people and simply living a good life? From the point of view of human justice that seems perfectly reasonable! The word of God today gives an emphatic NO Saint John says in the second reading “Our love must not be just words or mere talk but something real and active“ . The teaching is clear namely that our happiness, joy and true peace can only come when we allow the vine dresser to prune us so that we may come to know and love Christ ever more. We are pruned when we are ready to change, convert and seek a life of holiness. It means we have to put aside habits and compromises which take us away from the gospel. Our love has to be real which means that we have to want to live the radical life of Jesus Christ and that he should inform all our thoughts words and actions.
The Scriptures remind us again and again particularly in this time of Easter that we are made for Christ. Our hearts will remain restless until we rest in Christ for life without hope in eternal life is ultimately empty and has no meaning. Saint Paul in the first reading is not initially welcomed by the community in Jerusalem for he has been busy persecuting them and the disciples are not able to accept his radical conversion. Barnabas persuades them and he is welcomed . The invitation we are offered this Sunday is not a harsh and stark one but rather to accept and know what we are made for. It is only when we let Christ prune us will we be able to be filled with true happiness and peace and so find our way to heaven.
The forces which are against us, the darkness that surrounds and the disbelief that pursues us want to persuade us to remain in the comfort zone, to be happy with moderation, not to challenge the status quo and believe those who say that they know what is best for us. The voice of compromise is often seductive, subtle, hidden and inconspicuous but is most dangerous for salvation.
The forces of Soviet dictatorship as they extended through the eastern bloc were no different for they profess to know what was best for people. Governments told those who were subjugated to them that we can supply you with a job, cheap vodka and accommodation. Simply said don’t bite the hand that feeds you or upset the apple cart. That dictatorship was exercised with a brutal success but what it was saying was directly contrary to the gospel namely that Christ wants us to know and make our home in him and thus experience freedom. A relationship with Christ whereby we are pruned by him will mean that we will have that most perfect knowledge that we are loved and carved into the palm of his hand. Against that the forces of materialism were all powerful and had to be respected or the consequences were dreadful.
Father Jerzy Popieluszko in 1984 was discovered drowned in a lake. He had been beaten, squashed to a pulp, had no legs and his face was unrecognisable. His brother identified him by a birth mark that was still on his chest. It was if you like the mark of Christ that however much the materialists had tried to crush him he still belonged to Christ because he had been pruned by him. A million Polish people attended his funeral and within a short time the country had been freed from its Communist dictatorship. Father Jerzy had been fearless in his ministry but in its essence all he had done was spoken for Christ and the need of every person to meet him and to receive love and mercy.
There was of course in those years an intense political battle being played in Poland but ultimately at its heart it was about knowing Christ, being pruned and asking for God to take away the darkness and brutality of the world. Those million who attended his funeral was according to the gospel today the glory of the father which is that you will bear much fruit if you let Christ form, prune and give you true joy. There was much fruit because of the ministry of Father Jerzy but this was because of his living of today’s gospel. The events of our own lives may seem somewhat removed from Poland in the 1980s or are they? Father Jerzy now Blessed Was fighting a political battle but ultimately he only wanted as a priest that all should know the freedom of being children of God. He was fighting a political battle but ultimately he only wanted as a priest that all should know the freedom of being children of God. Through that knowledge we come to be loved, formed and marked by Christ as was the case with the birthmark on his chest. That ultimately will be our happiness and peace. Sometimes God lets the challenge of the gospel be written on the big screens of the world and its news channels but ultimately it is the same story in all our lives. That is will we according to the gospel today make our home in him as he wants to make his home in us.