The 5th Sunday of Easter
First Reading: Acts of the Apostles 9:26-31
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 22: 26-28, 30-32
Second Reading: 1st Letter of St. John 3:18-24
Gospel: According to St. John 15:1-8
Venerable Fulton Sheen, the most important evangelist in the history of America – a man whose television audience in the 1950s reached 30 million viewers each week, once noted that the importance of being linked with Jesus can be likened to a lamp plugged into an outlet. If the lamp’s plug lays on the ground right below the outlet then the lamp cannot fulfill its purpose of bringing light to the room.
Sheen had almost two thousand years of Church history at his disposal when relaying this metaphor to the Americans who tuned in to his show, and so he could point to periods in history when that direct link had been unplugged by various revolutions against the Church, against the Body of Christ handed on to the Apostles and their papal successors.
As helpful as the image of the lamp is for us, and even knowing that it would have been in the intellect of the divine Person while He walked the earth, such a metaphor would have been useless to those who sat with Jesus at the Last Supper. For the audience at the first Eucharist, the story of the Vine and the Branches, as seen in this weekend’s Gospel reading, was much more appropriate.
“A branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine” seems a fitting pre-iteration of the idea behind the Archbishop Sheen story. Since Jesus is the Vine and we are the branches, then the warning to stay attached to the Vine is pretty transparent. For anyone who didn’t quite get the reference there is always the following pointed and somewhat frightening statement:
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.
The message at this point couldn’t be much clearer: to separate from Jesus is to be doomed to the torments of Hell. At least with Fulton Sheen all you need to do is plug in the lamp and all will be well, there is no concern over an electrical fire that will bring about a life-ending conflagration.
The admonition to bind ourselves to Him is not only the message of our Lord at the Last Supper, but is at the heart of the writings of the Beloved Disciple. Just as Jesus says “remain in me, as I remain in you” so too does St. John the Evangelist in his first letter, the second reading at this weekend’s liturgy, tell his listeners “those who keep His commandments remain in Him and He in them.”
For John the emphasis here and throughout his writings is the Truth – that we “belong to the Truth” and recognize that Jesus is the “True Vine” without Whom nothing can be done.
In the realm of science and technology, even when dealing with something as low-tech as a lamp, we understand that for things to work properly – or work at all – we must abide by the truths of nature. So too in Theology, and that’s why Venerable Fulton Sheen used the example that he did and why Jesus used the vine and the branches. They both knew that faith and science come from the same Eternal Source, and that if you aren’t plugged in to that Source then no light – neither internal nor external – can shine.