Sunday, 5/2/2021, Fifth Sunday of Easter
Forgive & It’s All Going to Be Alright
First Reading Commentary: Acts 9:26-31
When an enemy comes to us wanting to reconcile their differences with us proclaiming that they are no longer an enemy but that they are an ally, we are hesitant to believe them. With good reason, we are skeptical and keep them at a distance until they can prove themselves. So, you can imagine that when Paul wanted to meet with the Apostles for the first time after his conversion that the Apostles were afraid and not quick to believe that he had changed. Paul persecuted the followers of Christ and participated in the martyrdom of St. Stephen. So why should the Apostles believe Paul without having proof that he truly was no longer an enemy.
It is difficult to forgive and yet that is what our faith tells us to do. Forgiving without having a reason to believe the offender in their attempt to make amends is a most extreme test of our ability to forgive. Jesus always forgives but Jesus is God and always knows what is in our hearts. The Apostles did not know what was in Paul’s heart. Without proof, they just had to take his word. This was a test for the Apostles to forgive as Jesus forgave and it is a lesson for us.
Because our faith calls us to forgive, when someone comes to us with an apology, we have to accept it. We may have just cause for remaining skeptical but if we do not give the offender the benefit of the doubt in forgiving them, we are not forgiving them at all. We are still holding something against them and in order to forgive, we have to let go of all animosity.
Barnabas was the only one among the Apostles who was able to totally forgive. He took charge of Paul, took him to the other Apostles and testified on Paul’s behalf telling the Apostles about Paul’s conversion, the fact that Paul was speaking boldly in the name of the Lord and that the Hellenist had tried to kill him for proclaiming his faith in Jesus Christ.
Sometimes, we are unable to plead our case on our own. We need someone who has influence on the one that we have previously offended to advocate on our behalf. That is what Barnabas did for Paul. It is also what the Spirit does for us as He works within our conscience. It is what Mary does for us as our Mediatrix with the Son and it is what the Son does for us as our Mediator with the Father.
What happened between Barnabas, Paul and the Apostles presents another lesson for us—God wants us to advocate for, each other. He wants us to do more than just forgive—He wants us to stand by each other, protect each other and when necessary; defend each other.
When we do this, things will ultimately work themselves out because it is God’s way and He will make it happen. That is why Barnabas’ defending Paul was successful. The Apostles accepted Paul in spite of his past zeal in persecuting the followers of Christ. They took him to Caesarea and sent him on his way to Tarsus to begin the ministry given to him by Jesus of proclaiming the Word to the Gentiles.
Everything worked out just fine. The Church was at peace, the people were filled with the Spirit’s gift of fear of the Lord and the Spirit consoled them and the Church grew in numbers. Sounds like a happy ending to the story—right? It is. But there is a deeper message for us. Keep the faith, fear the Lord, forgive others in the same way that we want the Lord to forgive us, love each other enough to always stand by each other and God will take care of everything. It’s all going to be alright!
Forgiving Keeps the Spirit within Us
Second Reading Commentary: 1 John 3:18-24
The message in today’s reading from John’s first letter is simple: obey the Greatest Commandments and God will be with us always.
Words are cheap without action. If we do not follow up what we say with action, we do not mean what we say and we are not being truthful. So, John tells us to love with deed and truth. Then, we will know that we belong to the truth if we reassure our hearts before God in whatever our hearts condemn.
What does this mean? How can we reassure our hearts before God in something that we have condemned? How can we stand before God and testify that we love our neighbor when, for whatever reason, we have no use for them? How can we love our neighbor if we hold a grudge against them?
When Jesus gave us the Greatest Commandments, He did not say that it would be easy to follow and obey them. It is difficult because forgiving is usually difficult. In fact, it is one of the most difficult things for us to do.
But don’t we feel relieved after forgiving someone in action as well as in words after being offended by that person? It is widely accepted that forgiving is not for the benefit of the offender but the offended. That is why we feel better ourselves after forgiving someone. It is the result of God’s own mercy and forgiveness working within us and this is why and how our own hearts are reassured.
John reminds us that God is greater than our own hearts and that God knows everything. God knows how difficult it is for us more than we can imagine. After all, the Father gave up His Son and the Son willingly gave up His life for our sins which are transgressions against Him and the Father. Jesus did not want to go to the cross, but He did want to obey the Father and He did want to save us. That’s how much He and the Father love us.
And so, it is with us. We may not want to forgive someone but if we are to be like Jesus, then we will obey Him and the Father and we will show our love for them by showing our love for our neighbor. We will forgive them in action and not just words. God will see this in our hearts and give us whatever we ask. And best of all, we will remain in God and He will remain in us in the person of the Spirit.
Bear Much Fruit
Gospel Commentary: John 15:1-8
Today’s Gospel is one of those Gospels in which Jesus is talking directly to each one of us. So, as we meditate on it, put aside the fact that He is addressing the disciples.
Jesus said that He is the true vine, that the Father is the vine grower and that a branch which does not bear fruit will be cut away and people will toss it into a fire to be burned but a branch that does bear fruit will be pruned so that it can bear more fruit.
Jesus is using this analogy to tell us that each of us is a part of His Mystical Body and He is giving us a prediction of hell. Each of us is a branch. Each of us has the same opportunity to bear fruit but some of us will not and will be tossed into a fire. That fire is hell.
When we love God and obey His commandments, we bear fruit and so we are pruned so that we bear more fruit and from this, God is in His glory. God working within us is our being pruned and God’s glory is the fruit.
Jesus told the disciples that they had been pruned because of the word that He spoke to them. We have been pruned by the Good News of the gospel and we continue to be pruned by the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. We are also pruned by the Spirit dwelling within us.
Jesus said, “Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me…Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out…”
Jesus makes two points here. 1- If we separate ourselves from the vine, we cannot bear fruit. In other words, we can do nothing without Him. 2- If we do not stay connected to the vine, we will be thrown out. In other words, we will be denied access to the Kingdom of Heaven and there is only one other alternative—hell.
Then Jesus promised the disciples that if they remained in Him, they could ask Him for anything. Jesus said, “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit…” In this statement, the fruit becomes more than God’s glory. The fruit is also our blessings. It pleases God to bless us and He is in His glory when He does.
Jesus often times uses few words to say many things. But my impression of this gospel when I first read it was that Jesus used a lot of words to convey one basic message. I think that He used so many words because so many people have a tough time accepting it.
The message is this: The Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is who we should believe in and we can do nothing without them. We cannot declare to be believers in Christ but disagree with or refuse to believe in or protest against anything that Christ said or did. The Trinity—God is in His glory when we do believe in them and we benefit by being with them in heaven for all eternity. There is nothing complicated about that.