5th Sunday of Easter
EASTER 5TH SUNDAY
Acts 9: 26-31 1Jn. 3: 18-24 Jn. 15: 1-8
Theme: Abiding in Jesus does not guarantee a problem-free life, but a life of abundance.
Suffering & Christian Life:
There was a parish church in a town and near to that church, an agnostic opened a liquor shop. Now it was a terrible thing for the faithful since some of the men, who came with the good intention of taking part in the Mass, ended up in the liquor shop in stead. Besides, the hustle-bustle of the liquor shop affected the peaceful atmosphere of the church campus. So a group of faithful went and persuaded the owner to shift his shop to some other place. But it was of no avail. Next, not knowing what to do, the faithful began to seek the help of God. The prayer group of the parish arranged for a special vigil, seeking God’s intervention. It so happened that, as the vigil was progressing, there was a heavy downpour of rain along with thunderstorm, and a powerful lightning struck the shop and razed it to the ground. The prayer group was ecstatic that God, not only heeded their prayer, but also acted so immediately.
Now the story is not over. The owner of the liquor shop made a suit in the court that the prayer group of the parish was responsible for the destruction of his shop. He claimed that it was because of their prayer that his shop was completely wiped out, and so it was their responsibility to pay the compensation. And so the judge summoned the prayer group, which denied the allegation, saying that their vigil had nothing to do with the destruction of the shop. On the one hand the agnostic went on stressing the powerfulness of people’s prayer, but on the other hand, the faithful were just denying it. Looking at these things, judge commented, “It is strange that an agnostic seems to have more faith in prayer than the believers.”
This is the state of our Christian life today! Our faith is intact and strong as long as suffering or pain does not come our way. Once suffering begins to show its head into our life, we begin to lament and bemoan; Our faith is shaken. Somehow we seem to believe that the purpose of prayer is to keep problem away from our lives.
But the bitter truth is that God calls people not to give a prosperous, suffering-free life, but in order to suffer. After calling Paul, God tells Ananias, “I’ll show him how much he has to suffer for my sake.” God’s call gave him more sufferings than comforts. In fact, today’s first reading implicitly points out the initial suffering and loneliness that surrounded St. Paul. Paul, as a new convert to Christianity, was brimming with enthusiasm and zeal. This enthusiasm enabled him to preach Christ with the depth of a disciple and the strength of a soldier. Paul was a person who put his heart and soul into everything he did. Because of Paul’s enthusiastic preaching, Judaism was at the receiving end.
At this juncture, the nascent Church, which was already suffering so much in the hands of the Jews, feared further harassment due to Paul’s conversion. It wanted to dissociate itself from Paul to certain extent. So it is said that the disciples put Paul in Tarsus, his home town (vs. 30). According to a Bible scholar, Paul was in Tarsus for about ten years before taking up preaching again. And it was an agonizing period of loneliness, desperation and mental suffering. It was the time in which he experienced the opposition, non-understanding and negligence of both the Jews and the disciples. Paul’s life gives a clear indication that suffering is part and parcel of any person, particularly the believer.
Purpose of Suffering:
Today’s gospel goes one step further, and explains the function of suffering in our life. Jesus says, “…and he (the Father) prunes every branch that does bear fruit, that it may bear even more fruit.” This verse points out the purpose of suffering in our life, i.e., it is given that we may bear more fruit.
There was a lady who visited a silversmith and watched him at work. He explained to her that silver, in order to be refined, must be placed in the middle of the fire where the flame is the hottest, so as to burn away all the impurities. He also told her that he had to keep a close watch on the molten silver and remove it at the correct moment. The lady asked, “How do you know when the silver is fully ready?”. He smiled at her and answered, “Oh, that’s easy, when I see my image in it.”.
This is the fruit that we are invited to bear. It can be said that the purpose of suffering is to help us to remove all the unnecessary things from our lives and that we may reflect God through our very lives. Suffering comes into our way so that we may be the messengers of God and bearers of God’s image.
To the question why suffering, which is so much in our life, doesn’t bring out such a change in our life, the answer would be that the problem lies in our approach towards suffering. Depending upon our approach, suffering can either be a boon or bane; it can either be a problem or an opportunity; it can either be a gift or a trap. It means that when our approach towards suffering is positive and right, it is a boon and gift. If not it becomes a torment.
Today’s gospel also points out the way to approach suffering rightly. It is by remaining in the vine, i.e. Jesus. When we remain in the vine, pruning becomes a meaningful as well as, to a certain extent, a joyful experience. “Even suffering will be easier when we are with Him, but without Him, even the greatest pleasures will be joyless” says Bro. Lawrence in his classic The Practice of the Presence of God. Being with Christ does not guarantee us a suffering-free life; but it promises us a life which offers us a transformed understanding of suffering.
In other words, without Christ, suffering is a problem to be solved; but with Christ, it is an opportunity to be grabbed. Without Christ, suffering becomes unbearable, and squanders our energy; but with Him, it becomes not only bearable, but also a gateway to imbibe more energy into us. This is the reason why Jesus tells us of the importance of remaining in Him. He speaks of abiding in him not so much for his sake, but for our sake.
Loving Father, help us to remain in you and live our lives fully, Amen.