Jesus' generous love

9 May 2021 - 6th Sunday Easter

What constitutes a Christian community? What makes it authentic? St John’s gospel tries to answer these questions. Jesus uses a simple agricultural image – a vine and its branches – to illustrate his teaching on community. 

Just as branches on a vine derive their life and fruitfulness by being attached to the vine, so do Christians live by being in union with God and produce godly fruit. God’s inner life in the trinity is one of union in mutual love. This union spills over to creation. We and all of creation are the fruit of this love.

Jesus, in today’s gospel passage develops the practical consequences of being branches attached to the vine. Jesus insists that his followers are to imitate this loving inner life of the Trinity. We are to love one another as fully and freely as God loves us. Moreover, we are instructed to use this love to benefit society. It is by performing acts of love that distinguishes us as true disciples of Jesus.

Many years ago, I heard a priest tell a story that has stuck in my memory. He spoke of a pumpkin farmer who was inspecting his harvest in the early stages of the crop’s growth. Near the edge of the crop, he found a large glass jar that had been abandoned by a passer-by. On a whim, he placed a small pumpkin inside the jar while being careful not to damage its attachment to the vine. 

Months later, the crop was ready to harvest. The farmer rediscovered the plant he had placed in the jar. The pumpkin filled all the space in the jar but it was miniature compared to the rest of the pumpkins in the crop. It was unable to grow beyond the confines of its glass prison.

In the gospel, Jesus reminds us that his love for us is a love that is unfettered. He gives himself totally to us. He loves us to death. He regards each of his disciples as his intimate friend. He regards this friendship as reciprocal. He expects us to love him in return and to love one another in the same unfettered way he loves us. Regrettably, we often behave like the pumpkin in the glass jar. We remain connected to the vine, but we allow external circumstances and the cares of life to constrict our growth in love.  

Jesus’ generous love for us both inspires and calls us to allow love to grow to full maturity in us. It asks us to put aside any obstacle that chokes the expression of God’s love. It tells us that Christian community is the place where unrestrained love is given, received and put into practice. We are his chosen friends but only if we do what he commands us: to love one another without reserve.

Michael Gilbert CSsR

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