Saint John tells us in the second Reading, (1Jon 3:18-24), that our love for God and for one another should not just be words or mere talk, but something real and active. James underscored the same point when he said that faith without work is dead. Hence, if our love for God, our family, our neighbour, our community, our Church, is not backed up by action, then they are empty. St Paul emphasized that, “If I have the gift of prophecy and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1Cor 13:2).
The first Reading and the Gospel of today show us how love can be put into action. We are all aware of how Saul persecuted the early Church. He was responsible for considerable numbers of Christians being arrested, tortured, and even put to death. However, after Saul’s extra-ordinary encounter with the Risen Lord on his way to Damascus, he repented of his ways and converted to Christianity. Saul, (St Paul), recounted this experience in the First Letter he wrote to the Corinthians, “Last of all he (Jesus) appeared to me too, as though I was a child born abnormally, for I am the least of the apostles and am not really fit to be called an apostle, because I had been persecuting the Church of God; but what I am now, I am through the grace of God, and the grace which was given to me has not been wasted. Indeed, I have worked harder than all the others — not I, but the grace of God which is with me, (1Cor 15:8-10).
After Saul’s conversion, the members of the early Church in Jerusalem wanted to keep him at arm’s length because they were doubtful of the genuineness of his conversion. However, the intervention of Barnabas helped to reconcile Saul with the nascent Church, then united in love, the Church with Saul as an apostle was able to proclaim the message of the Risen Christ especially to the people of non-Jewish heritages.
Jesus said in the Gospel, (John 15:1-8), that he is the vine, and we are the branches. Any branch that does not bear fruit is cut away, and the branches that do bear fruit are pruned to make them bear even more. The message Jesus wants to communicate to us by saying that a branch which does not bear fruit is cut away, is that God’s love for us, or our love for God, or our family, or our neighbour, or our community, or our Church, does not imply that unacceptable human behaviours would be condoned indefinitely. God invites us to come to him as we are as the lyric of the hymn ‘Come as You Are’ by a Loreto nun, Sr Deidre Brown states:
Come as you are, that’s how I want you
Come as you are, feel quite at home
Close to my heart, loved and forgiven
Come as you are, why stand alone?
However, the Lord expects that as we come to him, his grace will transform us into better people. Therefore, time may come for a line to be drawn. The Book of Hebrews reminds us that all children are disciplined by their fathers, (Heb 12:7), as a sign of love. Pruning fruitful branches means acknowledging or exulting good behaviours.
Christ the true vine showed us what true love meant by dying on the cross for us. He has invited us to show love to each other and not to stab a member of our family, or community, or Church or friend in the back.
We should therefore become a community that lives out the love of Christ by being faithful to our Christian vocation and reconciling conflicts.
Fr Chinua Okeke CSSp