We are to produce the rich fruit

2 May 2021 - 5th Sunday Easter

Many of the Old Testament prophets compared God’s people to a vineyard that needed tending and protecting. Equally, they were not afraid to call the people to order when they strayed, reminding them the same vineyard was producing only sour grapes and was ready for destruction. We know that Jesus was familiar with these scriptures and often used their images to proclaim his message of salvation. 

At the Last Supper he initiates the New Covenant in his blood by consecrating the wine at table, commanding us to do this in his memory. And in his conversation with the apostles he speaks of himself as “the true vine” and his “Father as the vinedresser”, but more than that he develops the image, reminding us that if we are to bear good fruit we have to be united with him. The alternative does not bear thinking about: we will be cut off from the source of life.

In Jesus’s day, probably most people would have known how to graft vine branches, but few of us work that closely to nature these days. Nevertheless, this is a useful image as we think of the mission of the Church, reaching out to others to be connected to the source of God’s life. We have a classic example of that in the conversion Saul of Tarsus, the man who was zealously persecuting the early Christian community and who was struck down on the road to Damascus. 

His conversion was the talk of the early Church and is widely reported in the New Testament, both in the Acts of the Apostles and in his own letters. It seems that Paul, as he became known, was not someone to meddle with, whether he was for or against you. You have only to read his letters to realise that he does not mince his words and clearly, to begin with at least, he was regarded by the early Christian community with suspicion and even fear: just note how Luke describes the situation in today’s extract from the Acts. 

Barnabas acts as a mediator but even as Paul becomes accepted, he manages to end up in such a heated argument that the Hellenists are out to kill him. Fascinatingly, it is only when the brothers get him out of the way, that we hear the churches throughout Judaea, Galilee and Samaria were able to live in peace.

If you read on in the Acts of the Apostles, you will find that Paul and Barnabas form a mission team. However, sadly, this partnership was to end in tears, when Paul would not hear of John Mark, Barnabas’s cousin, re-joining them after he had abandoned the work for a while. Maybe, we can take consolation from all this. The fact is that even after we have been grafted onto the vine, we remain the same people with our own complicated personalities and foibles, but the Lord can still use us to produce rich fruit.

Damian Coleridge
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