Welcome back to the Vineyard! As we continue our Easter journey, today the church continues the readings from Acts of the Apostles and St. John the Evangelist leads us back into the Vineyard.
In the first reading, Paul and Barnabas decide they need to go back to Jerusalem for dialogue and conversation around one question. Luke, the writer of Acts of the Apostles, says the controversial issue is the practice of circumcision. Probably the action of circumcision wasn’t nearly as big as the issues behind the actions. Namely, does one have to become Jewish first, before becoming Christian? And if this is the case, then is Christianity merely an elite branch of Judaism? The church needed to come together to discuss its fundamental identity. Who are we with respect to our essential roots in our Jewish tradition? This gathering together of course was the first gathering of the church which we now call the Council of Jerusalem. We would later come to name these gatherings as Ecumenical Councils. The most recent of course is the second Vatican Council which took place from 1962 to 1965. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecumenical_council lists the councils and gives pertinent information regarding each Council.) These gatherings of the church are for the most part good and healthy for its existence. The church seems to be best when she is in dialogue. So when the Pope calls an Ecumenical Council, he is inviting the church to do something which not only as part of our tradition, it’s also an invitation to listen to ourselves as a global entity and to enter more profoundly into a global and faith dialogue.
When we get to the gospel, we must remember that John’s Gospel is highly symbolic. John will frequently use the image of vineyards and wine with the understanding that these are the eschatological times. All of us are invited to work in the Lord’s vineyard. And that vineyard is not a heavy burden. The vineyard is the place that prepares us as we work for some greater good. The vineyard is the place that you work towards a future where there will be wine and celebration. Ideally, the vineyard is a place of happiness ad peace. It’s not a coincidence that the fourth evangelist has Jesus public ministry beginning at a wedding banquet. The wedding banquet is the culmination of everything that came from the Vineyard, and Jesus sees himself as the bridegroom. So the invitation to be literally grafted to the vine is an invitation of oneness with the Lord. Similarly in doing so we also give the Lord permission to prune away any of the branches which are not fruitful. This can be quite threatening, especially when we hold onto non-truths, broken promises, or sentimental keepsakes.
If we choose not to be grafted to this vine I think we end up in a place of tremendous isolation and loneliness. Scripturally, another profound example of this contrast is found with the two men who are crucified on each side of Jesus. One accepted the love and mercy Jesus extended to him, and the other one did not. What a terrible, isolated, and lonely place that must have been.
Reflection question for the day: As you look at the place of your employment, can you see and name areas of the Lord’s vineyard which you have been invited to work and participate?
Fr. David Colhour, C.P. is on the staff at Christ the King Passionist Retreat Center, Citrus Heights, California.