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Clinging to the vine


The disciples were naturally skeptical about St. Paul, as they had known him as being an active persecutor of the tiny Christian community, and news of his sudden conversion was naturally doubted.

Since Easter, the theme of our Sunday liturgies has revolved around fear and doubt. We reflected on the doubting Thomas, yet he actually was not any different from the others, except that more was asked of him.

The other disciples had not been asked to believe without seeing, but Thomas was. His reluctance is used as an encouragement to others, a witness that doubts and fear can be overcome.

It was only after giving Paul the third degree that the disciples were able to accept him for what he had become, an active and dedicated apostle, speaking out boldly in the name of Jesus.

While accounts of his conversion are sketchy, it was no doubt far more complex than falling down on the road. Exactly what the flash of light represents, we are not told. But we do know that something profound happened to Paul that changed his whole way of life.

In terms of the reading from the gospel of St. John, where Jesus talks about himself as the vine, his Father as the vine grower and us as the branches on the vine, Paul had been pruned of his wasteful growth and been able to draw life from Jesus, the vine itself.

Jesus talks about this as bearing fruit. It is interesting that he uses the word fruit in its collective sense, not in its plural form that denotes many different types or species.

The fruit can be thought of as life or goodness, and an inner quality that is manifest in the deeds that a person does, which in today’s language we may paraphrase as contributing to the common good or the well-being of others.

However, the story concentrates on the source of the life. It comes from the Father through Jesus and the implication is that without that source of life, a person becomes like the wild growth on the vine, which the story tells us will be pruned and thrown away.

We get a strong hint towards the end of the reading of what that inner quality is where Jesus states that those who abide in him may ask the heavenly Father for whatever they wish and it will be done for them.

This is a statement that those in whom the word of Jesus abides will only ask for what is good, as the goodness of the life they draw from Jesus will permeate their con-
sciousness to the extent that good things is all they can think of or imagine.

It is a powerful statement and gives us a hint about how to pray.

If we pray to God and expect to receive a positive response, then we should shine in the fruit of the Spirit. Such a person, we are told, cannot be like the selfish child who expects that they will be rewarded by their parents for every single little thing that they do.

It is the attitude of self-giving that we have witnessed in Jesus life.