One of the mantras of the modern age is that you end up enjoying the lifestyle that you have earned. Work hard and you will be successful in life. Is this true? The Gospel reading assigned for this week is the account in John’s Gospel of Jesus as the true vine. In one verse, we come across the words, ‘apart from me you can do nothing’. It is so tempting to believe that our skills, qualifications, possessions, career, status and reputation are the fruits of our hard work, dedication and ability. After all, we have made something of our lives. Here Jesus delicately reminds us all, that this is simply not the case. If we are skilled with our hands, it is a gift from God; if we are good at written exams, it is a gift from God; if we enjoy high paid jobs in a peaceful and thriving economy, it is a gift from God. Our health, our energy, our artistic, creative, analytical and social abilities are all gifts from God. The education and health services we benefit from are gifts from God. Every single ability, talent and opportunity comes from the God who knitted us together in our mother’s womb. What is our response? It is to be eternally thankful and not to boast. It is to live in a permanent state of humble gratitude to God and not to condemn or criticise others. After all, apart from God, we can do nothing!
How many wars or conflicts are caused by one group of people believing that they are different from others? In the Gospel reading assigned for this week, Jesus addresses this whole issue of exclusivity. In Ancient Israel, many of the Jewish religious leaders believed that Israel was the only nation important to God. They believed that other nations were ultimately destined for destruction. Jesus made it clear that God’s sheep are not only from Judaism but also from the non-Jewish world. True, Jesus, for practical reasons, encouraged his followers to start with the ‘lost sheep of Israel’ but then made it clear that the Church’s mission was universal. Jesus stayed and taught in Samaria, praised the Roman centurion for his faith, told a story about a good Samaritan and declared that many from the North, South, East and West will sit down in the Kingdom of God. Lord forbid that we should ever think that our Christian faith is only for us and people like us.
The Gospel reading appointed for this week is Luke’s account of Jesus’ appearance to his disciples in the upper room. Luke includes the detail of the disciples actually touching Jesus and then Jesus eating with them. What is the significance of this? Perhaps there was a heresy circulating in the early church that Jesus had not fully risen in bodily form and was just a vision. The Gospel writers are emphatic about there being a physical, bodily resurrection. Today many people, including some Christians, still dispute the reality of a physical resurrection. Perhaps their thinking is that corpses do not come back to life and not even God can do this. This is a curious view to hold of the God who created a universe 100 billion light years in diameter and formed humanity from dust. Surely, the author and sustainer of all life could easily accomplish new life from death. The wonderful reality is that just as God did this with Jesus, He can accomplish the same with all of us who are in union with Jesus. However, for me, the real wonder is even more profound. The real wonder is that God bothered with us in the first place. Why, when we had rejected Him, did God do this for us? That is the real miracle. Let us continue to ponder that, this week.
Have you ever considered how debilitating intense fear is? Our brain responds to this type of fear in one of two ways: fight or flight. That is, attack or run away. Once this part of the ‘reptilian’ brain ‘takes over’, all higher order functions of the brain close down and we cannot show love, compassion or kindness to others. It is the antithesis of the Gospel. What is behind such intense fear? Who, or what, is so opposed to the Gospel if not Satan? This is why Jesus so frequently urged his disciples to overcome fear. Following the resurrection, Jesus’ first words to his followers were once again in this vein when he said, ‘Peace be with you’. In the near Eastern world, this greeting meant much more than, ‘do not worry’. The Greek word from the New Testament was similar to the Hebrew word ‘Shalom’. This was understood as a foretaste of the Kingdom of God where peace, wholeness, reconciliation, justice and love predominate. These ‘Kingdom’ values drive out timidity, worry and intense fear. In this season of Easter, we celebrate the fact that sin and death are eternally defeated. We have nothing to fear. Let us therefore be bold in proclaiming the Gospel to everyone we come across.
I wonder what we are most passionate about. Who, or what, is it that fires our desire and devotion? On the very first Easter morning, there could be no doubt about the answer to this question for Mary when she was at the tomb. Her obsession that morning was with Jesus’ dead body and that was all that concerned her. When she discovered his body was missing, she wept so much that it clouded her vision and she could not see around her. When she spoke to a person she believed to be the gardener, she did not even explain that she was looking for Jesus – she just used the word ‘Him’. Such was her pre-occupation with Jesus she did not entertain the possibility that the word ‘Him’ could refer to anyone else. Finally, in John’s Gospel we read that when the ‘gardener’ said, “Mary”, she actually turned to face him. Why? Because she was probably so engrossed with the empty tomb where Jesus had been, that she could not take her eyes off it. Then, amidst this deep sorrow and pain, Mary discovers that the gardener is in fact the risen Jesus, and her joy is overwhelming. Are we, like Mary, totally passionate about Jesus? If we are, then we too will be overwhelmed with joy this Easter.