In the readings of the Fifth Sunday of Easter Year B, Jesus asks his disciples to “remain in him” — to abide in him, to stay in his life.
It’s a plea we are familiar with. Many of our songs feature a lover pleading to “stay with me.” But this is very different. He wants us to stay not because he needs us, but because we need him.
He says to stay with him because he makes you strong.
“I am the vine, you are the branches,” he says in the Gospel. “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.”
These words are taken from the Last Supper Discourse in John. He said them to the apostles the night they received the First Eucharist. They knew what he meant: The Eucharist makes us one with Jesus the way branches are one with a vine.
What fruit do we produce from the Eucharist? According to the Catechism, each Communion:
- “preserves, increases and renews the life of grace received at baptism” (No. 1393)
- “separates us from sin” (No. 1394)
- “strengthens our charity” (No. 1394)
- “preserves us from future mortal sins” (No. 1395)
- “commits us to the poor” (No. 1397)
This is what happens to us if we abide with him. What happens if we don’t?
“Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither,” he says.
If you stay but don’t see these fruits in your life, he says to look for the Father.
The fruits we see in our lives are his. If we lack fruits, Jesus says to be open to losing whatever is impeding our progress.
“My Father is the vine grower,” he says. “He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.”
Our first job is to stay. Our next job is to stay open to losing what stands in God’s way.
Stay with him as you would stay with a friend.
If imagining Jesus as a vine is not helpful to you, the Church has embedded this Sunday’s Gospel in readings that are much more understandable. The First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles explains how Paul found a home in the Church. The First Letter of John is all about what fellowship with Jesus looks like.
The message of both: Staying with Jesus is very much like staying with any other friend.
We don’t neglect to say “Hello” to a friend. We shouldn’t neglect prayer.
We don’t just love our friends “in word or speech” but also in “deed and truth.”
We don’t do what our friend hates — “we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.”
And since friends don’t always get along, we have to apologize. It is the same with God.
Stay with him even if you feel out of place for a time.
But maybe we don’t feel very friendly toward the faith. We may feel out of place in our parish — and right at home somewhere else.
This is how Paul felt in the First Reading. When he converted to Christianity, his Jewish friends rejected him, his new Christian community feared him, and the people he debated with wanted to kill him.
He should be the patron saint of people who feel out of place in their parish.
He stayed anyway and what happened?
Stay for the sake of the kids. And your neighbors. And your fellow parishioners. Stay to improve their lives.
After Paul stayed, says the Second Reading, “The Church throughout all Judea, Galilee and Samaria was at peace. It was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord, and with consolation of the Holy Spirit it grew in numbers.”
We are in the same situation.
God wants to bring everyone we know to a better place. He wants to give them spiritual courage in this life and to eternal bliss in the next.
If we walk away, others will follow and wither with us. If we just remain in him, abide with him — stay — then others will stay too. And the vine will increase, and thrive.