2nd May, 2021

Grapes hanging in a vineyard

Homily for the 5th Sunday of Easter

In the Bible but especially in the New Testament, both a vine and a vineyard are beautiful symbols of prosperity, joy and happiness. However, in the Old Testament they also symbolize Israel, the chosen people who wandered through the desert for forty years in search for the Promised Land. Also, today, on the fifth Sunday of Easter we are invited to reflect on this very simple and easy to understand passage of the gospel that tells us about the vine and also about the incredible care, professional experience and the great prudence of the vinedresser.

First, however, let us see that this is not the first passage of the gospel where Jesus used this interesting and very simple picture and comparison, because in another gospel we may also find a slightly different parable about the vine. Perhaps we remember this passage about a man, a landowner, who planted a vineyard and then leased it to tenants and went to another country for a while. Then when he returned, and when it was time for the long-awaited harvest, he sent his servants to collect the crop that was due him, but the dishonest and greedy tenants disregarded their master’s servants and sent them back with nothing.  When other servants sent by the master went and approached the tenants, they treated them in the same or even worse way because they were beaten, insulted, and also returned to their master with nothing. And finally, the master came up with a different idea and said to himself: I’ll send my only beloved son, believing that he will be respected. However – as we remember – the tenants, seeing that the master’s son came to collect the crop that was due to his father, they killed him hoping to take over all his heritage. And at this stage in this dramatic story, Jesus asked his listeners a question: What should the owner of the vineyard do then? He should severely punish or even kill these unworthy tenants and entrust the vineyard to honest people this time – that was the answer.

Anyway, both this and other parables about the vine make it clear that the vineyard is something incredibly important to God. All these passages tell us that God cares about his vineyard, and moreover he cares to such an extent that he sends His only begotten Son to pay the highest price for it – that is the price of his blood – to recover this vine and to have it only for himself from now on. God doesn’t want to share this vineyard with anyone else. He will never abandon his vineyard, and today’s gospel explains why. Mostly because the vineyard of God is in fact the community of all the baptised, the community of the Church.

In today’s parable, Jesus wants to tell us something more, that He is the true vine and we are the branches, and this is actually the essence of today’s gospel. The most important message of this parable tells us that from that particular moment of our baptism we have been so united with Christ that now we are one body, we are one living organism with Him. But what does this mean for us? This means that just as every – even the smallest plant or branch of this plant – needs water that circulates in it and causes it to grow, we also need God’s grace and the gifts of the Holy Spirit that we may bear fruit and fully participate in the life of God.

Today’s gospel tells us something else, that sometimes there is also a need to prune branches. Every branch in me that bears no fruit my Father cuts away, and every branch that does bears fruit he prunes, to make it bear even more. Perhaps in our life there are also such branches that are fruitless, that waste our time and energy and perhaps there are also such branches that hinder our relationship with God. It might be for example some bad relationship or company at school, at work or maybe our laziness or addiction to: The Internet, money, alcohol and many other things. But perhaps the most difficult thing is for us to accept such situations in our lives when God takes from us – or in other words ‘cuts away’ – something that we thought was very precious, valuable and useful: maybe some good relationship, high position at work, peace of mind, the possibility of going on holiday and taking rest in the present time of the pandemic. Let’s see that at this time of the pandemic, God took away or ‘cut off’ so many good, valuable and precious things from us.

Perhaps all these difficult situations, when we think we have lost everything, we have lost something really important to us and when we feel pain, sadness and longing, maybe all these situations actually have a deeper meaning and purpose. Or maybe through this particular loss, through our loss of a loved one or a friend, but also through our pain, sadness and longing caused by this loss, God wants to tell us something more. Perhaps He wants to open our eyes wider to another reality and another dimension of happiness. Let us open our hearts, allowing God to work in our life like an experienced gardener and vinedresser. Let us allow him to prune and cleanse our hearts and desires and ‘cut off’ all that is useless and harmful on our way to real happiness and holiness.

Fr Gregory