5th Sunday of Easter (B), May 14,2006
Readings: Acts 9:26-31; Ps 22:26-28, 30-32; 1 John 3:18-24; John 15:1-8
God lives in me
The readings for today bring an amazing message—true good news. They tell us that the great God who created the entire universe is not far above us in the heavens. This immense, transcendent God lives within us. Because of God’s great love for each of us, in Jesus God has come so near that God’s own life has become our life. God lives in me.
Jesus proclaims this extraordinary message through the imagery of the relation between a vine and its branches. Jesus’s disciples are related to him in a vital and organic way, the way branches get their very life from the vine. Today’s gospel reading is part of Jesus’ farewell discourse in John, chapters 13 to 17. The setting is Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples. The topic is how Jesus’ followers will be able to carry on when he is no longer physically present as he was during his earthly ministry. On the eve of his departure, he promises that he will remain with them. He will continue to give them life the way a vine gives life to its branches. Just as the life of the vine energizes and enlivens the branches, the risen Christ will be within us, giving us life. The relation Christ promises to have with us is astonishingly intimate—his own life will be our life.
The relation of vine to branches is just one of the images Jesus uses in his parting discourse to tell the disciples how he will live in them and how God will dwell in their hearts. Another image draws on the intimate way a parent lives inside the child and continues to do so even when the child is grown and the parent has departed from this life. Since this is mother’s day, think of the way your mother has influenced who you are. She lives inside you, influencing all you do, even when you are separated or even if she has departed from this earthly life. Jesus says he will be within us in this way even when he has departed earthly presence through his death and resurrection. “I will not leave you orphans,” he says. I will be within you as your mother is always within you. I will rise to new life, and “because I live, you also will live—I in you and you in me.”
In a third image he says he will dwell with us. He says that I am my Father will come to you and “make our home with you.” We will send our Holy Spirit to dwell with you and remain with you. The Spirit “will be in you.” Jesus will live not only near us, but within us. Jesus’s Spirit will not only be nearby us, but will enter into the core of who we are, living in our hearts. God the Father and our Mother will not care for us from a distance, but will make God’s own home in our hearts. The image of God dwelling within our hearts offers us a kind of life that exceeds anything we can hope for from our own resources. God is at home in us. We are invited to make our home in God. No matter where we are we will never be alone and never be strangers.
Finally, Jesus uses the image of friendship to describe the way he will live within his disciples and how God will dwell in us. In the passage that immediately follows today’s gospel Jesus says to his disciples “I no longer call you servants but I call you friends.” A true friend has been described as “another self”—as one who shares both my joy and my sorrow, shares my hopes and my fears. A real friend is with me through good times and bad. A real friend not only lives with me, but in a sense lives inside me, sharing all I have and even all I am.
Today’s gospel is telling us God lives within us in all these ways. God’s life has been given to us as our own life, just as a vine gives life to its branches. God is with me and within me, just as my mother is near me and within my heart even though, in my case, she has returned to God. God has made God’s own home in me, and invited me to make my home in God’s own heart. Most radically of all, Jesus tells us that God lives in us the way one friend lives in and with another. The good news today is that God lives within us. To find a deep source of hope even in difficult times, we do not have look far way, but just to trust Jesus’s words that God lives within us. God dwelling within us is our source of life like a vine is to its branches, like a mother is to a child even when the child is grown, and like a true friend is in both good days and bad. What an extraordinary message of hope and joy. Let us turn to the Eucharistic table to give thanks for it.
David Hollenbach, S.J., St. Ignatius Church, May 13-14, 2006