Bible Reflection (28 April 2024)

5th Sunday of Easter Year B

Acts 9:26-31
1 John 3:18-24
John 15:1-8

Persevering in the Lord’s vineyard.

Have you ever been in a situation where someone doubts your sincerity? For example, you may offer your service to a volunteer organisation, but perhaps because you were unknown to that organisation, others questioned your motives? This was precisely the experience of Paul, when after his conversion, he came to Jerusalem and tried to join the disciples. We read in the First Reading this week: “When he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.” (verse 26) In our own encounter, there may even be times when not only are people suspicious of us, they may even want to cause us harm! This was also the experience of Paul in this week’s First Reading. We read how the Hellenists wanted to kill Paul. “He spoke and argued with the Hellenists; but they were attempting to kill him.” (verse 29)

In truth, the experience of Paul is not new or unique. Indeed, this is a common strategy of the devil to undermine the good works of the those who labour in God’s vineyard. The devil wants to discourage us, causing us to become disillusion and give up. Of course, on our part, when we have such an encounter, we also have to self-reflect. In other words, we need to ask ourselves: Are my motives pure? When people are suspicious of me, are they justified in doing so? In situations where our motives are pure and our treatment unjustified, in the Second Reading St John assures us, “whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” (verse 20) Hence, whenever the devil wants to discourage us and cause us to give up, we must never fail to draw assurance from God and stay true to our vocation. As St John encouraged us in the Second Reading, “if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God” (verse 21)

In times of difficulties and persecution, we draw comfort that God is not just with us in spirit, He is with us physically too. Indeed, for us Catholics, God invites Himself to become part of our very being through the Eucharist. The problem is that many of us do not partake in the Eucharist with a discerning heart. To many of us, the act of communion is a mere ritual. Jesus said in the Gospel this week, “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (verse 4-5) In the Second Reading, St John reminds us of the significance of the Eucharist by his use of similar Eucharistic language. He wrote, “All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them.” (verse 24) So, my brothers and sisters, let us ask ourselves, in times of difficulties, do I abide in Jesus? Do I realise He abides in me?

The Eucharist and our faith sustain us in times of trouble, but we also need practical help. Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians, “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Cor 10:13) The psalmist similarly promises us God’s help: “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears, and rescues them from all their troubles.” (Ps 34:17) Indeed, when we are undergoing trials, we need help from others. The problem for some of us is that we are too proud to admit that we need help and support from others. But not Paul in the First Reading. When the disciples rejected him, we read: “But Barnabas took him, brought him to the apostles, and described for them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus.” (verse 27) Barnabas’ testimony for Paul was vindicated when Paul “went in and out among them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.” (verse 28) Later, when the Hellenist wanted to harm Paul, God sent him help again: “When the believers learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.” (verse 30)

My brothers and sisters. Let us keep faith with God – by us persevering in our conviction and helping others to persevere in theirs. We may not think that what we are doing amount to much, but little do we realise, God often uses our meagre five loaves and two fish to great effect (Mt 14:17-21). In the First Reading, what Paul, Barnabas and others perhaps did not realise is the positive cascading effects of what they and other like-minded people were bringing about. We read, “Meanwhile the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.” (verse 31) As Jesus promised us in the Gospel this week, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” (verse 7-8) Trust in the Lord!

Indeed, when we labour the Lord’s vineyard, we must be mindful to always labour in faith and in trust. Amen.