REFLECTION/HOMILY FOR THE FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER, YEAR B

EMBRACING GOD’S PAINFUL AND PRUNING SHEARS

First Reading: Acts 9:26-31
Responsorial Psalm: Ps. 21(22):26-28,30-32
Second reading: 1 John 3:18-24
Gospel Reading: John 15:1-8
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During the time of Jesus, agriculture, particularly vineyard cultivation, was a prominent aspect of the local economy and daily life. While not every Jewish family had a vineyard, vine cultivation was a common practice in ancient Israel, particularly in regions conducive to viticulture such as Galilee and Judea. Many families owned or worked in vineyards as part of their agricultural livelihood. At that time, vines required careful attention and cultivation throughout the year to ensure their health and productivity. This involved tasks such as planting, pruning, watering, fertilizing, and protecting the vines from pests and diseases. Vinedressers were skilled in these practices and understood the importance of proper care for the vineyard’s success. Pruning, a vital aspect of vineyard maintenance (as listed above), typically occurs during the winter months, specifically in late winter or early spring, after the dormant period of the grapevine. This timing allowed for the removal of dead or excess growth before the onset of new growth in the spring. Farmers and vineyard workers used various tools for pruning, including pruning shears, knives, and sometimes even small saws, for cutting away unwanted, long, or overgrown branches and shaping the vine for optimal growth and fruit production. The primary purpose of pruning was to promote the health, vigour, and productivity of the grapevine. By removing dead, diseased, or non-productive branches, farmers ensured that the vine’s resources were directed towards the development of healthy shoots and fruit-bearing branches. Understanding the pruning process of grapevines in ancient Israel provides the context for Jesus’ metaphor of pruning in this Sunday’s gospel, which will ultimately help us understand how God prunes us daily to enhance our productivity and fruitfulness. This will serve as the key to understanding the central message of this Sunday in relation to the first and second readings.

As a product of his culture, Jesus in this Sunday’s Gospel Reading (cf. John 15:1–8) uses the metaphor of the vine and branches to drive home his farewell discourse to his disciples, which occurs in the upper room on the night of the Last Supper, just before his arrest and crucifixion, to prepare his disciples for the challenges they will face after his departure. He says: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that bears no fruit he cuts away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes to make it bear even more.” Here, Jesus identifies himself as the true vine, signifying his central role in our spiritual lives. Just as a vine is the source of nourishment and life for its branches, Jesus is the source of spiritual vitality and growth for his followers. He then goes on to depict the Father as the vinedresser who tends to the vineyard. His role is to nurture, care for, and oversee the growth and productivity of the vine and its branches. Here, the vinedresser exercises wisdom, skill, and authority in the pruning, cultivating, and shaping of the vine to maximize its fruitfulness and health.

Interestingly, the primary purpose of grapevines is to produce fruit, specifically grapes. This fruit-bearing process involves the development and maturation of clusters of grapes on the branches. In a grapevine, the branches are physically connected to the main stem or trunk of the vine. This connection allows for the flow of water, nutrients, and carbohydrates from the vine to the branches, in order to yield maturation and bear fruit. Unfortunately, some factors, such as graft failure, physical damage, pest attack, adverse environmental stress or condition, and diseases/infections on the branches, may disrupt the flow of water and nutrients and weaken its connection with the vine. This consequently makes the branch lose connection with the vine and inability to bear fruit. Similarly, in the spiritual realm, we are metaphorically connected to Jesus, the true vine. This spiritual connection enables us to receive spiritual nourishment, guidance, and vitality from Christ, enabling us to bear fruit. However, when we refuse to bear fruit by disconnecting ourselves from Christ as a result of infection by sin, we face the Father’s judgement (cutting off), unless we repent. So, it is not surprising to hear Jesus say: “Every branch in me that bears no fruit he cuts away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes to make it bear even more.”

And turning to the branch that bears fruit, we hear Jesus speaking about pruning. The Greek word used for “prune” in this passage is “καθαίρει” (kathairei), which is a verb form of the word “καθαίρω” (kathairó). This word carries the meaning of “to cleanse or purge.” So, in the context of the passage, it signifies the action of God in trimming and cleaning to promote growth and fruitfulness. As stated earlier, pruning shears, knives, and sometimes even small saws, which often induce pain and stress in the plant, triggering physiological responses aimed at coping with the damage and promoting healing. These responses may include the activation of defence mechanisms, changes in hormone levels, and redirection of resources to facilitate wound closure and new growth. While the pruning process may inflict temporary pain and stress on the plant, it is ultimately a beneficial practice that promotes health, vitality, and productivity in the long term. So it is when God prunes us. Spiritual pruning often involves God removing aspects of our lives that we are comfortable with but are hindrances to our spiritual growth. This may include habits, attitudes, or relationships that we have become attached to but are not conducive to our flourishing in Christ.

Also, spiritual pruning may involve experiences of trial, adversity, or discipline that challenge us and stretch us beyond our comfort zones. These experiences can be emotionally, mentally, and spiritually taxing, causing us to wrestle with doubts, fears, and uncertainties. This was the case of St. Paul. Recall that Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus was a pivotal moment of pruning in his life. Prior to his encounter with Christ, Paul was fervently persecuting the early Christians, acting out of zeal for his Jewish faith. However, his encounter with the risen Lord led to a radical change of heart and purpose. This could be said to be a pruning of Paul’s former identity, beliefs, and motivations, redirecting him towards a new life and mission in Christ. Following his conversion, Paul faced significant challenges as he embarked on his ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles, as we see in this Sunday’s First Reading (cf. Acts 9:26-31). Here, we see Paul attempting to join the disciples in Jerusalem, only to encounter scepticism and suspicion due to his past persecution of the Church. Despite the hardships he faced, Paul found comfort and support from fellow believers, such as Barnabas, who vouched for him and facilitated his acceptance into the Christian community. Despite the pruning process of his conversion and the challenges he encountered, Paul’s ministry bore abundant fruit. He proclaimed the Gospel boldly, established numerous churches throughout the Roman Empire, and wrote many of the New Testament epistles that continue to edify and instruct many to this day.

Dear friends in Christ, the process of pruning requires surrender and trust on our part, as we submit ourselves to God’s pruning shears and yield to his sovereign will. Letting go of control and embracing God’s pruning can be a painful process of relinquishing our selfish desires, plans, and expectations. However, despite the pain and discomfort involved, the pruning process is ultimately for our good, the good of the community, and God’s glory. Through pruning, God shapes us into vessels that are more aligned with his purposes, more fruitful in our ministries, and more intimate in our relationship with him. This results in living lives characterized by real and practical love, obedience, and faithfulness to God’s commands, as reflected in the Second Reading (cf. 1 John 3:18-24). Thus, as we abide in Him and His love, we bear fruits that reflect His character and advance His kingdom here on earth.

Above all, dear friends, we should not be afraid to embrace God’s pruning shears. Just as a loving father disciplines his children for their own good, so too does God discipline or prune us in order to correct, instruct, and mould us into the image of Christ (cf. Hebrews 12:6). While the pruning discipline may be unpleasant at the moment, its ultimate purpose is to bring about spiritual growth, maturity, and conformity to God’s will. By embracing His divine pruning, we can grow in faith, obedience, and intimacy with Christ the true vine, ultimately bearing fruits that reflect His love, leading souls to God, and bringing glory to His name.

Shalom!
© Fr. Chinaka Justin Mbaeri, OSJ
Seminário Padre Pedro Magnone, São Paulo, Brazil
nozickcjoe@gmail.com / fadacjay@gmail.com

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Chinaka Justin Mbaeri

A staunch Roman Catholic and an Apologist of the Christian faith. More about him here.

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Eghe
Eghe
1 month ago

Amen

Francisca Simire
Francisca Simire
1 month ago

Thank you fr for this beautiful n inspiring homily

I pray my life too will bear fruits 8n Jesus mighty name Amen

Fada CJay
Fada CJay
1 month ago

Amen

Emeka Odugu
Emeka Odugu
1 month ago

God Almighty, I hereby present myself to you for pruning. Like the psalmist would say, “I acknowledge my sins and my sins are always before me”. Prune me that I may bear fruit deserving your love and a shining example to all that look up to me.

Fada CJay
Fada CJay
1 month ago
Reply to  Emeka Odugu

Amen

Ezeugwu Eucharia #G6sssa3 Done
Ezeugwu Eucharia #G6sssa3 Done
1 month ago

May i have the Grace to bear all the challenges in my life with love patience and Obidient.

Fada CJay
Fada CJay
1 month ago

Amen

Michael Umande
Michael Umande
1 month ago

Thank you Father for this beautiful homily. I pray for the grace to submit to God’s pruning shears. Amen

Nneka casmira
Nneka casmira
1 month ago

Thanks for the write-up. May God bless you Amen

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