Sunday, May 6, 2012
Be grafted on the True Vine
HOMILY FOR THE FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER, May 6, 2012:
There is a Native American story about a young man who found an eagle’s egg and put it into the nest of a prairie chicken. The egg hatched with the brood of prairie chickens and grew up with them. All its life, the misplaced eagle thought it was a prairie chicken and did only what the prairie chickens did. It scratched in the dirt for seeds and insects to eat. And it flew no more than a few feet off the ground with a thrashing of wings like other prairie chickens. Years passed and the unfortunate eagle grew very old. One day, it saw a magnificent bird high above in the cloudless sky. Hanging with graceful majesty on the powerful wind currents, it soared gracefully on its strong golden wings. “What a beautiful bird!” said the unfortunate eagle to another prairie chicken. “That’s an eagle, the chief of the birds,” the friend replied, “But don’t give it a second thought. You could never be like him.” So the poor eagle never gave it a second thought and it died thinking it was a prairie chicken.
Jesus said, “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.” The story of the eagle begs the question of where we are rooted, what or who we identify ourselves with. Human beings are like vine branches; we need a vine in which to graft and root ourselves because whatever vine we are connected to will condition the way we see ourselves, the expectations we have of ourselves, and the ceiling of achievement we place on ourselves.
In our world today, vines come in many shapes and colors each soliciting our allegiance. Materialism, pleasure and power are among the most popular vines of our day. Once we identify ourselves with a false vine, it immediately conditions and determines how we see ourselves and what we do with our lives.
The Jews whom Jesus was addressing in today’s gospel knew very well the vine on which they were supposed to be grafted and rooted. Many times in the Old Testament Israel was referred to as the vine which the hand of God had planted. The Maccabees even minted a coin in which a vine was used to represent Israel. So when Jesus claimed that He was now the vine they would understand that as an invitation to shift their primary allegiance from Jewish nationalism to the person and message of Christ. To make sure they get it Jesus makes the claim that he is not just the vine but the true vine. The word “true” signifies that which is real, authentic and valid, as opposed to that which is flawed, imperfect or false. To accept Jesus as the true vine into which our lives are grafted and rooted is to recognize that every other vine which wants our allegiance is flawed, imperfect or false and will lead us the wrong way.
The misguided eagle in our story was like a branch grafted on a false or imperfect vine; and so it remained false and imperfect all its life. If a wise bird had told it the truth about itself it would have shifted its self-identification from prairie chicken to eagle and it would have soared.
Today that word of wisdom is being addressed to us. We are being called to stop identifying ourselves primarily in terms of nation, race, or social or economic status. We are challenged to see that if those or other things are the primary lens though which we view ourselves, then we’re set up for failure, we will never be what we are called to be. As Jesus said, “without me you can do nothing.” With Him, we can do great things. We need to see ourselves in terms of our oneness with Christ just as the vine branch and the vine are one. Then and only then shall we be able to bear good fruit, the same type of fruit that Christ himself bears.
Be grafted onto the True Vine; be rooted in the love of Jesus for you; the love that is present in each and every Eucharist. The gospel invites us today to know better: to graft and root ourselves as vine branches into the true vine, Jesus Christ
“I am the vine, you are the branches…If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.”
May God give you peace.