Prayer and Meditation for Wednesday, May 17, 2017 — “I am the vine, you are the branches.”

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter
Lectionary: 287

Image result for jesus, fruit of the vine, art

Reading 1 ACTS 15:1-6

Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers,
“Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice,
you cannot be saved.”
Because there arose no little dissension and debate
by Paul and Barnabas with them,
it was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others
should go up to Jerusalem to the Apostles and presbyters
about this question.
They were sent on their journey by the Church,
and passed through Phoenicia and Samaria
telling of the conversion of the Gentiles,
and brought great joy to all the brethren.
When they arrived in Jerusalem,
they were welcomed by the Church,
as well as by the Apostles and the presbyters,
and they reported what God had done with them.
But some from the party of the Pharisees who had become believers
stood up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them
and direct them to observe the Mosaic law.”

The Apostles and the presbyters met together to see about this matter.

Responsorial Psalm PS 122:1-2, 3-4AB, 4CD-5

R. (see 1) Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.
I rejoiced because they said to me,
“We will go up to the house of the LORD.”
And now we have set foot
within your gates, O Jerusalem.
R. Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Jerusalem, built as a city
with compact unity.
To it the tribes go up,
the tribes of the LORD.
R. Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.
According to the decree for Israel,
to give thanks to the name of the LORD.
In it are set up judgment seats,
seats for the house of David.
R. Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Alleluia JN 15:4A, 5B

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Remain in me, as I remain in you, says the Lord;
whoever remains in me will bear much fruit.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel JN 15:1-8

Jesus said to his disciples:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.
He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit,
and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.
You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.
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.
I am the vine, you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit,
because without me you can do nothing.
Anyone who does not remain in me
will be thrown out like a branch and wither;
people will gather them and throw them into a fire
and they will be burned.
If you remain in me and my words remain in you,
ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.
By this is my Father glorified,
that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

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What is the “Fruit of the Vine”?

By Kyle Butt
In the 21st century, scientific names and designations of certain fruits and vegetables often disagree with commonly accepted notions of the produce. For example, is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable? What about a cucumber? Although most people see these two foods as vegetables, technically they are viewed in scientific circles as fruit. Furthermore, both cucumbers and tomatoes grow on vines, which would, in the strictest sense of the word, classify them as “fruits of the vine.” Other fruits that grow on vines include melons, such as watermelon and cantaloupe, as well as grapes.

In light of the fact that there are many different “fruits of the vine,” how are we to understand the New Testament phrase, “the fruit of the vine,” that Jesus used during the Last Supper just before His death. Is it possible to identify which “fruit of the vine” was used to produce the drink of the last Supper? And if so, how does the identification of that specific fruit affect the observation of the Lord’s Supper today?

The phrase “the fruit of the vine” is used in only three places in the New Testament:

Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:27-29).

Then He took the cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And He said to them, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many. Assuredly, I say to you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (Mark 14:23-25).

Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes” (Luke 22:17-18).

In order to identify the specific “fruit of the vine” referred to by Jesus, we must analyze the words of the phrase in light of how the first-century audience would have understood them. The Greek word translated “vine” in these three instances is ampelos. Arndt, et al., define the term as “vine, or grapevine” (1979, p. 46). In virtually every instance in the Bible when the term is used, it refers to a grapevine. For instance, in James 3:12 several Bible translations render the word ampelos as “grapevine.” The New King James version reads: “Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs?”. In Revelation 14:18, we read: “And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over fire; and cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, ‘Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe.’” Notice that the term “vine” is used, then modified by the phrase “for her grapes…,” obviously referring to a grapevine.

Another Greek term relevant to this discussion is ampelōn, deriving from the same word as ampelos. Arndt, et al., give as its almost universal meaning, “vineyard” (p. 47). References in the New Testament using the term to denote a vineyard filled with grapes include Matthew 21:33-41, Mark 12:1-11, and Luke 20:9-16. In fact, the only reference in the New Testament where the term might mean anything other than a vineyard of grapes is Luke 13:6, where the term could possibly mean “orchard” (Arndt, et al., p. 47), specifically an orchard of figs. Since figs, however, are never referred to as the “fruit of the vine,” nor would a fig tree be classified as a vine, then this possible exception to the term “vineyard” has no bearing on the definition of the “fruit of the vine.”

Indeed, the terms “vine” and “vineyard” are so universally associated with grapes and wine made from grapes, that William Smith, under the entry for the word “vine,” wrote: “The vines of Palestine were celebrated both for luxuriant growth and for the immense clusters of grapes which they produced” (1870, 4:3446, emp. added). In Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, W.E. Vine included the following statement with his definition of “wine”: “In instituting the Lord’s Supper He [Jesus—KB] speaks of the contents of the cup as the ‘fruit of the vine.’ So Mark 14:25” (1997, p. 1232). In The Expositor’s Greek Testament, A.B. Bruce summarized Jesus’ statement in Matthew 26:29 in the following words: “It is the last time I shall drink paschal…wine with you. I am to die at this Passover” (2002, 1:312).

It is an absolutely established fact that Jesus’ disciples, as well as the broader first-century readership of the gospel accounts, understood Jesus’ phrase “fruit of the vine” to refer to juice from grapes [NOTE: There is ongoing debate as to whether the grape juice was fermented or unfermented. For a brief, but trenchant discussion of this debate, see Jackson, 2000).

If Christians today want to follow the example that Jesus set during the Lord’s Supper, and the apostles followed throughout their ministry, then they will drink juice from grapes during their observance of the communion. Although we today might technically view products such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons as “fruits of the vine,” they were not referred to as such by Christ, the New Testament writers, or the greater Greek-speaking community at large during the time of Christ.

http://ap.lanexdev.com/APContent.aspx?category=11&article=1262

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore 
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17 MAY, 2017, Wednesday, 5th Week of Easter
NECESSITY OF BEING PRUNED TO BEAR MORE FRUITS

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ACTS 15:1-6; PS 121:1-5; JOHN 15:1-8 ]

Today, we read about the growing primitive Church seeking to reconcile with the influx of Gentile Christians.  The Church was moving out of Palestine to regions beyond and as a result an increasing number of gentiles embraced the gospel.  On one hand, this influx of new members into the Church, especially non-Jews, was good news.  But on the other hand, the early Church never thought through seriously the implications of accepting non-Jews into the faith.  Their entry into the Church caused the Jewish Christians unease in mixing with the non-Jews, especially when it came to dietary laws.  The Jewish-Christians were steeped in Jewish culture and customs even though they had accepted Christ.  Above all, the Laws of Moses were still valid and they would not easily give them up, as for hundreds of years, they were brought up in the laws of Moses which they considered sacred, as these laws were given by God.

Indeed, it was difficult for the early Church to separate culture from faith.  So the tendency was to react by protecting her customs and laws.  Hence, they sought to impose Jewish customs and practices on the Gentile Christians as well.

Today the Church faces similar challenges, especially in liturgical and moral issues.  In the area of worship, the traditionalists want to go back to the Tridentine rite of celebrating the mass and the sacraments. They argue that this is a higher form of worship as it is faithful to the doctrine of the mass as a sacrifice.  Moreover, it is celebrated with greater solemnity and reverence, giving the sense of sacred, and helping the congregation to raise their minds and hearts to God through the Latin chant and the liturgical symbols.  At the other end of the pendulum, we have the contemporaries who are more familiar with the Ordinary rite of celebrating the Eucharist. Even then, they prefer a more free and easy way of celebrating the Eucharist, using worship songs that express their sentiments and engage their minds and hearts; and which help them to be more connected with themselves and with God.  Liturgy for this group of people means active participation of body, mind, spirit.  They feel that the Tridentine rite does not help to engage them and furthermore, as it is not in the vernacular, they cannot understand and therefore feel like an observer in the liturgical celebration.

In truth, both have the right intention but are not in agreement on the means.  Ultimately, true worship, as Jesus said, must be a worship offered in Spirit and in Truth.   (cf Jn 4:21-23) Pope Francis also wrote that we need to find better ways of communication.  “We cannot demand that peoples of every continent, in expressing their Christian faith, imitate modes of expression which European nations developed at a particular moment of their history, because the faith cannot be constricted to the limits of understanding and expression of any one culture” (“Evangelii Gaudium,” No. 115).   We must keep the perspective of worship, which is union of mind and heart with the Lord, rendering perfect praise and a true sacrifice.

Not only is the liturgical development a source of tension within the Church but even more so when it comes to moral issues.  There are so many modern bioethical issues that have surfaced due to advancement in science, in reproduction such as surrogate motherhood, in-vitro fertilization, cloning. In addition, moral and social issues are very complex in a changing society where the role of women is being redefined, divorce, single parenthood, dysfunctional children and people with same sex attraction are on the increase.   How do we deal with these challenges that were never thought of in the time of Jesus?  Society has evolved and values have changed as well.

Again, we can react like the Jews by imposing our traditional values on the modern world.  We can insist that the laws of the Church and moral laws cannot change.  We can stick to our guns, but what will happen?  The divorcees will leave the Church as they feel ostracized by the community.  So too those with same sex attraction.  They feel that the laws of the Church make them out to be condemned sinners although they sincerely believe that their condition is through no fault of their own.  If there is any fault, it would be that of nature and they are simply being true to themselves, their identity and their emotional and affective needs.  Then what do we do with children that are born of surrogate mothers, those who are raised by same sex and transgender couples?  The truth is that we cannot just dismiss the struggles and tensions that they are going through, and many of them are sincere believers of the Lord and seeking to find integrity and peace.

We need to find a way in which we can accommodate the truth and the practical situations that confront us.  This is the reason why the Holy Father, Pope Francis wrote the encyclical, Amoris Laetitia, the Joy of Love.  Whilst maintaining the doctrines of the Church, since the objective truth cannot change, he advocates the application of these doctrines according to the spirit of the law and not just based on mere legalism.  This calls for sensitivity and discernment.  We cannot apply the laws without taking into consideration the person, the context and the situation he or she is in.  What we need to do is to embrace the person and help the person to find out God’s will for him or for her in the context of the Word of God.  Often, we do not arrive at the truth immediately, but over time, so long as we are open, the Lord will show us the way to the truth and to fullness of life.

Truly, the psalmist tells us that we are all invited to the House of God. Let us not prevent or drive away those who are seeking to find God’s will in their peculiar state of life.  Let us not be too harsh in passing judgement on them because we are not in their position.  Rather, we must welcome them and allow them to be pruned by the Lord as the gospel tells us.  “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.”

How can we be pruned by the Lord if not to let His Word enter into our hearts?  Jesus said, “You are pruned already, by means of the word that I have spoken to you. Make your home in me, as I make mine in you.”  So rather than isolating and condemning people who cannot accept certain doctrines of the Church, especially its moral teachings, we must welcome them all the more and help them to discover for themselves what the Lord wills for them.  Careful discernment in prayer and in the spirit is required through a deeper understanding of the Word of God.

In the final analysis, we should judge the matter by the fruits it brings.  Jesus taught, “A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.” (Mt 7: 18)  That was what the early Church did. They testified to the fruits in welcoming the Gentiles into the Church without insisting that they observe the laws of Moses.  “As they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria they told how the pagans had been converted, and this news was received with the greatest satisfaction by the brothers..”  In the gospel, Jesus reiterated, “It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit, and then you will be my disciples.”  These fruits of course must not be passing fruits but are lasting.

In conclusion, let us welcome the challenges that the Church is currently grasping to find a middle way to accommodate the extreme positions taken by the traditionalists and the progressives.  We should not use authority or juridical power to stem out the differences.  Rather, we need to reinterpret the signs of the time so that all parties can be satisfied and feel respected and heard.  So we need to be patient and let the tension remain.   Creative tensions are part of the process of purification, discernment and growth.  God will eventually help us to think out of the box because we are all constrained by our past and narrow ways of looking at life and the scriptures.   What is needed is patient dialogue conducted in humility and mutual trust and respect.  It will take time and we cannot rush through such matters.   Time is needed to see things more objectively from afar.  Time is needed to help us sort out our prejudices to see from the other person’s point of view.   Let us allow Jesus to live in us.  “Make your home in me, as I make mine in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, but must remain part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me.”  Our common love for the Lord will unite us in our differences and enable us to respect unity in diversity.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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Commentary on John 15:1-8 from Living Space

Perhaps there are some of us who have never seen a vine (although we may be well versed in our wines!). But what Jesus says about the vine – a plant very common in Palestine – can be said about any fruit-bearing tree that we are familiar with and the message is clear.

The vine is an image we find elsewhere in the Old Testament. Jesus uses it as a symbol of the Kingdom of God; all who belong to the Kingdom are part of the vine. The fruit of the vine can also be understood of the Eucharistic celebration. It also represents a life lived according to the vision of Jesus, a life filled with unconditional love.

Jesus is explaining to us what our relationship with him can be like and indeed should be like. He compares himself to a tree, basically to the trunk of the tree. The cultivator of the tree, the one who gives it life, is the Father God. Jesus’ disciples are the branches.
It is the branches which bear the fruit.

If a branch does not bear fruit, it is simply cut off. It is no good; it is just draining life from the trunk without giving anything in return. It is very easy for us to be that kind of Christian. We come to church in search of “handouts” but give very little back to the community.

But, even the branches which do bear fruit, are pruned, have parts cut off, so that they will bear even more. Those who cultivate fruit trees or roses are familiar with this process and know how important it is.

What does this pruning consist of? Jesus explains: “You are pruned already, by means of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide, stay in me, as I abide and stay in you.” We are pruned, then, by our total identification with everything that Jesus stands for and by constantly cutting out of our lives everything that is contrary to the spirit of Jesus.

This involves a certain kind of asceticism, a denying of some of our natural appetites. This becomes easy as we are more and more overtaken by the vision of life that Jesus offers to us. We give up those non-Christlike things gladly and willingly. It becomes our deepest happiness and even pleasure to be always in Christ.

It is clear from what Jesus says that only those branches which are connected to the trunk can bear fruit. “Cut off from me you can do nothing.” Without fruit we are dead branches but, on the other hand, the fruit is not just of our own making. It is the sign that Christ is working in us and through us.

The most outstanding fruit of all is, of course, the love we reveal in our relationships with God and with people. “By this will all know that you are my disciples, that you have love one for another.”

Separated from Christ – always the result of our own choice – we are like a branch that has fallen from the tree. We wither. Such “branches are collected and thrown on the fire, and they are burnt”. Such separation is not physical. It is a separation of identity. It comes from rejecting or refusing to accept the Way of Jesus as our way of life. It is a rejection of life and the choice of alternatives which can only lead to decay and death.

Finally, there is the great promise. “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask what you will and you shall get it.”

This is not to be interpreted as some kind of blank cheque, such as asking to win the first prize in a lottery or to have one’s enemy wiped out or to be cured of a terminal sickness.

The promise is prefaced by an important and essential condition: we need to be IN Christ and to have our lives totally guided by his “words”, that is, his teaching, his vision of life. And, if we are with him, our prayer inevitably will be to be more deeply rooted in him.

Because he is the Source of all life and all Meaning in life.

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http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/e1054g/

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore

27 APRIL 2016, Wednesday, 5th Week of Easter

INTEGRATION

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ACTS 15:1-6; JOHN 15:1-8     ]

In this age of globalization and migration, we would think that the world should be more united. We presume that with improved digital technology and mass communication systems, there will be greater mutual understanding.  Unfortunately, there are also downsides to globalization and migration.  With so many cultures, religions and races coming together, tensions are bound to arise.  In the old days it was easier to unite the people in a country, because most of them shared a distinct culture and religion.  But this is not the case today.  Indeed, all over the world, countries are faced with the challenge of integrating migrants as, if not managed well, they could become a potential source of conflict, misunderstanding and tension in society.

The Church today faces the same challenge of integration.  The Church is called Catholic, which means universal. How do you maintain unity when members come from so many diverse nationalities, cultures and languages?  Before the era of globalization and migration, it was not that difficult because most Catholics were homogenous within their own communities.  But regardless whether we are Catholic or not, the local churches all over the world have to deal with the integration of migrants into their local community. If not properly handled, the Church could become very divisive as well, because we know that culture has to do with emotions rather than with logic.

Consequently, we can learn from the experience of the early Church, which we read in the Acts of the Apostles.  Right from the start, they had to deal with the entry of the Gentiles into the Church.  Until then, the early Christians were mostly Jews.  Whilst accepting Christ as their Saviour and Lord, they remained true to their Jewish faith.  They continued to be circumcised, for that was the way to be members of the Covenant.  They also followed strictly the laws of Moses as prescribed, even for food and rituals.  With a great influx of Gentiles into the Christian community, the Jewish Christians also felt uncomfortable mixing and socializing with the Gentiles for fear of contamination.  It was in this context that this issue was brought before the leaders in Jerusalem.

The implications were far reaching and any decision would determine the future of the growth of Christianity. If they required the Gentiles to be circumcised over and above the reception of baptism, then Christianity would be reduced to another sect in Judaism.  If they were to say that the Gentiles need not become Jews and practice the customs of the Jews and follow the laws of Moses as prescribed in the Old Testament, then it would mean that Christianity had distinguished itself from Judaism. Membership would no longer be by circumcision with all the implications of being a Jew but simply faith in Christ through baptism.

Salvation therefore did not depend on whether they became members of the Old Covenant through circumcision, but whether they had faith in Christ.  In other words, by accepting the Gentiles into the Christian faith without requiring them to renounce their culture, other than those values or practices that were deemed to be alien or non-compatible to the gospel, the Christian Church had established herself as members of the New Covenant; no longer under the old Law of Moses but only the Law of Christ.  Indeed, this would be the step forward to unite all peoples regardless of their language of culture.  Unity, above all, must be based on faith in Christ.  How we express our faith is another different matter altogether.

Indeed, this is the message of today’s gospel when Jesus spoke of the fundamental integration that is required for us all.  All unity must be founded on our unity with the Lord.  For this reason, at the beginning of the mass, we say, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”   The gathering of the Christian community is founded on our union with the Holy Trinity.   Hence, we are called to be integrated first and foremost in him. “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me you can do nothing. Make your home in me, as I make mine in you.  As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, but must remain part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me.”

Secondly, we are to be integrated with the leaders of the Church.  One cannot be in union with Christ without being in union with His appointed successors.  The sure way of being united in the Lord is to be in communion with the leaders of the Church. For this reason, Paul and Barnabas sought clarification from the apostles at Jerusalem when there was a dispute over the necessity of circumcision of the Gentiles Christians. Paul recognized the authority of the apostles in making decisions for the future of the Church as such matters were not found explicitly in the bible.  We must not so be simplistic to hold the principle that everything is found in the Word of God.  The bible is not a kind of encyclopedia that gives an explicit answer to every question.  Many of our modern day questions are not found explicitly, but implicitly in the Word of God.  Hence, when new questions are raised, it is the task of Church leaders to come together to discern the Lord’s will with regard to new issues.

Thirdly, discerning leaders must be rooted in the Word of God.  In the work of discernment, leaders must be in touch with the Word of God.   This is what the Lord says, “You are pruned already, by means of the word that I have spoken to you.”  Whilst the bible does not give explicit answers, nevertheless, Church leaders are required to make sure that their decisions are always based on the principles founded in the Word of God.  Indeed, no doctrines and dogmas can contradict the bible even though they are not found explicitly in the scriptures.  The Word of God is applicable for all times but not to be understood literally.

Fourthly, integrity of life is the sign that we are integrated and in communion with Him and His Church.  This is seen in the fruits we bear in our lives.  St Paul gives us the criteria of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law”  (Gal 5:22f)  Jesus also made it clear “A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.”  (Mt 7:18-20)   We must be weary of those Christians who claim to have the truth but will do things in ways that are not in union with their leadership or in agreement with the Word of God.  Jesus warns such people, “Anyone who does not remain in me is like a branch that has been thrown away – he withers; these branches are collected and thrown on the fire, and they are burnt.”

In the final analysis, let us realize that tension in the Church and among members of the community is not always negative but the teething problems of growing up.  It is, as Jesus tells us, part of the pruning process which entails some trimming on the part of those who are growing in the Spirit and those members that have become obstacles in the growth of the Church because of complacency and routine.  Jesus said, “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.”   It also calls for sensitivity to each other, especially respect for each other’s cultures.  There is a need for sincere and honest dialogue, just like the early Christians.  Instead of cutting each other off, resulting in schism, we must remain together and united in prayer when engaging each other.  At the end of the day we must glorify God by our unity and love for each other.

 

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore

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One Response to “Prayer and Meditation for Wednesday, May 17, 2017 — “I am the vine, you are the branches.””

  1. daveyone1 Says:

    Reblogged this on World Peace Forum.

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