5th Sunday of Easter, Year B
Psalm 22:26-27, 28, 30, 31-32 (26a)
1 John 3:18-24
April 29, 2018
The Acts of the Apostles is the story of the building up of the early church. One of the challenges the early church faced was persecution from both the Romans and the Jews who rejected Jesus as the messiah.
One of the most zealous Jewish persecutors was a man named Saul who we come to know as the Apostle Paul. He was a Pharisee. He was very strong in the Jewish faith but rejected Jesus, that is, until Jesus appeared to him one day on the road to Damascus.
Saul’s encounter with the Risen Jesus was so powerful that he immediately became a Christian and spoke “boldly in the name of Jesus.”
There was one problem. When Saul comes to Jerusalem “to join the disciples,” they knew his history persecutor of Christians and so they were afraid of him. So, Paul ministers in other towns, helping to build up the church.
Our first reading today ends with describing the church as “being built up and walked in fear of the Lord and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit it grew in numbers.”
Today our church is shrinking. What is it going to take for our church to grow in numbers today?
First, we need to follow Paul’s example of the speaking “boldly in the name of Jesus.” By “boldly” I do not mean that we are all called to go out on missionary journeys like Paul and preach. What we are all called to do is to simply speak up for what we believe in. This is easier said than done.
What are we to say? What are we to do?
When we think of what we are to say, I think of the first part of our response to our psalm today, “I will praise you.” The best way to help others believe in Jesus is to offer praise to God by speaking of the good things that God has done for us.
Praise can be in words. It can also be in actions. The second part of our psalm response today says to praise him in the assembly of people. Simply making the effort to praise God by coming to Mass every week shows that he is important to us. Our effort shows our praise.
We can also think of our postures as Mass as ways of praising God. When we kneel, it is not in fear but rather in recognition of the awesomeness of God. When we stand, it is because we know we have been raised up by Jesus. When we bow, we acknowledge that we need God who is greater than us.
As to what we are to do, we are to “keep his commandments and do what pleases him.” We do this in fear of the Lord but fear in this sense is not being scared of the Lord. How can we be afraid of Jesus who loves us so much as to be willing to die for us on the Cross? No, fear in this sense is to recognize the greatness of God. That leads us to want to follow him.
Jesus is “the true vine.” We are the branches. If we wish to thrive and bear good fruit we must remain connected to Jesus because without him we can do nothing.
What we need to so is remain in Jesus. This means recognizing that when we do great things, it is because of the goodness of the Lord. It means not just having a superficial relationship with him but to unite ourselves in a deep abiding way that penetrates our soul.
One way of doing this is to look at the attitude we approach Mass with. Do we come looking to feel good for one hour or do we look to let Jesus and the Holy Spirit penetrate our hearts and souls to change us?
Think about it. Are you willing to let Jesus and the Holy Spirit change you?
Another way to think about it using Jesus’ words is to ask ourselves if we are willing to let the Lord prune us? Do we let Jesus direct the way our lives go?
Years ago, my dad’s property had a few grape vines that were intentionally planted and pruned. As long as they were pruned, they bore a sizable crop of grapes for so few vines.
What remains today is only wild grape vines. They grow aggressively. I just finished cutting up an 85-foot willow tree that had fallen down. Wrapped around it were several wild grape vines, some of which reached most of the 85 feet the tree stood but they never bore any grapes. They put all their energy into growing without putting any effort into actually bearing fruit.
What do we try to do in our lives? Are we bearing fruit?