Sixth Sunday of Easter; 9 May 2021; Easter 6B (RCL); Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17.
Last week, we read the image of the vine in John’s Gospel, and this week’s reading continues on from there. The whole purpose of Jesus’ command that we love one another as he has loved us is so that we might be fruitful. John never does tell us what fruitfulness looks like, and so leaves it open for each community to discover for itself what is good and ripe and juicy.
Again, as last week, there is a lot of abiding going on in the readings from the first epistle of John and from John’s Gospel. And again, the Gospel uses the image of placing one’s soul in the care of another: No greater love has anyone than this, than to entrust one’s soul to one’s friends (a better translation than to lay down one’s life).
In the story of the woman at the well, when she has returned to her village, and the disciples have come back to Jesus, they offer him something to eat. He replies that he has food to eat which they do not know about, to do the work of the one who sent him. He then points to the fields white, ready for harvest, and speaks of entering into the labor of others. As soon as he has finished that cryptic saying, the Samaritans from the village come to the well, and invite Jesus to stay with them. The harvest is perhaps the inclusion of the Samaritans in the community of Jesus’ followers.
When Jesus is entering Jerusalem for the last time, Philip and Andrew come to tell him that certain Greeks want to see him. Jesus replies that unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone, but if it does die, it bears much fruit. That’s really the only other time in John’s Gospel where the idea of fruit shows up. I believe (connecting to the grain imagery at the well), Jesus is raising the question of whether or not the Johannine community will surrender its identity as Jewish to allow certain Greeks to enter. To do so is to bear fruit.
The vine, of course, is a common image for Israel in the Christian Old Testament. In that case, fruitfulness looks like righteousness and justice (Isaiah 5), security and peace (shalom — each person sitting under their own fig tree and vine), prosperity, and a wide range of other significances. It is a fruitful image. All of these valences are available to us, the readers of the Gospel.
And the commandment to entrust our lives to one another is for the purpose of fruitfulness. All of those valences come about because of the commandment to love — righteousness, security and peace, prosperity, and joy (remember, Jesus turned 150 gallons of water into wine for his first miracle).
The reading from the Book of Acts relates the end of the story of the conversion of Cornelius’ household. While Cornelius (a God-fearer and generous man) was praying, an angel appeared and told him to send to Joppa for Simon Peter. At the same hour, Peter was having his vision of the sheet lowered from heaven with all manner of animal, and a voice commanding him to rise, kill, and eat, and then telling him that nothing God had created was unclean.
When Peter arrived at Cornelius’ house, he began his speech about God showing no partiality, and in the course of that speech, the Spirit fell on Cornelius’ whole household. This marks a turning point in Luke’s narrative. From this point forward, Acts will concern itself with the ‘mission to the Gentiles.’ Fruitfulness perhaps lies in seeing that person like Cornelius, though apparently (by our judgment) outside of the purposes of God, is in fact to be included. Seeing God at work among those we deem to be on the outside only enriches our understanding of God’s purposes.
It can be terrifying to entrust our souls to people we don’t know yet, but if we are to see God’s purposes at work among them, we need to be ready to do just that. Love is not some emotion that wishes good things for others; it is the willingness to entrust ourselves to them.