Jaime L. WatersApril 22, 2021
Photo by Kid Circus on Unsplash.

In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear about Saul (later called Paul) and his introduction to the apostles. Saul had previously been a persecutor of Christians, but after a vision and encounter with Christ, he has a conversion, a change of heart and attitude (Acts 9:1-19). In today’s reading, the apostles are understandably suspicious of Saul, knowing his past actions, but Barnabas is apparently familiar with Saul and vouches for him. As Saul continues his new ministry, he “spoke boldly in the name of the Lord.” What does it mean to speak boldly?

‘Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit.’ (Jn 15:5)

Liturgical day
FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER (B)
Readings
Acts 9:26-31; Ps 22; 1 Jn 3:18-24; Jn 15:1-8
Prayer

What can you do to speak and live boldly?

How do you spread the good news?

In what ways can you foster right relationships with God and with others?

 

Earlier in Acts, Luke describes some of the apostles speaking boldly and praying for boldness (see Acts 4:13, 29-31). This practice helps them spread the good news, especially through healings and wondrous signs. After the apostles pray for boldness, they are filled with the Holy Spirit, and their first action is to offer help to people most in need, which we heard about on the Second Sunday of Easter. The boldness of the apostles is manifest in their generosity, sharing wealth and making sure people’s needs are met. Bold speech on behalf of God must be coupled with bold actions for people in need of physical and spiritual care. Today’s second reading, from 1 John, expresses a similar idea, affirming, “Let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.”

In the Gospel from John, Jesus speaks metaphorically to explain relationships: The Father is the vine grower, Jesus is the vine and the disciples are the branches. Jesus as the vine helps to link his followers with the Father. Moreover, it is the Father who cultivates the vine and enables the branches to bear fruit, discarding those that are not productive.

John uses this imagery because it was likely congenial to his audience, who were familiar with the agricultural work of viticulture. Moreover, he alludes to Old Testament images that describe God’s hope and plan for his people. Several of the prophets compare Israel to a vine or vineyard, often using the image to express disappointment at Israel’s infidelity. For instance, in Jeremiah God condemns Israel for worshipping other gods and failing to keep the commandments: “Yes, I planted you as a choice vine, from the purest stock. How then did you turn degenerate and become a wild vine?” (Jer 2:21). Isaiah, too, criticizes Israel as an unfruitful vineyard: “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness but heard a cry” (Is 5:7).

John, however, uses the vine image to emphasize especially the positive outcomes. Jesus states that those who remain in him, understanding and living out the Gospel, will bear fruit. Being “in Christ” is active. It is not simply belief in Christ; rather, it is an active pursuit of justice. The end of the reading reiterates the connections and positive outcomes by affirming that by bearing fruit and living as Jesus’ disciples, they bring glory to the Father.

Today we are reminded to speak and live boldly. We should reflect on how faith in Christ requires action, especially on the part of those most in need. Living boldly is about living in a way that is consistent with the Gospel message of love of God and neighbors.

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