B Cycle – 5th Sunday of Easter 21
John in his first letter simplifies things for us by confirming what God has promised us through the prophet Jeremiah, that he would write his law on our hearts. Thus, we will keep his commandments not by strength of our own will power or discipline but because our hearts are changed. In his first letter John tells us how our hearts condemn us when we sin or when we are faithful our hearts affirm us. Our confidence grows as our hearts affirm, we are doing God’s will and John tells us that affirmation comes from the Spirit and strengthens our belief in God’s promises.
This should not surprise us, for God told us these things through the prophets. When Adam and Eve sinned, we lost the intimacy God desired us to experience with him. That sin did not change God’s desire for intimacy with us, but it certainly changed our relationship with God. We live in the fallen world where sin separates us from God but that does not mean we have to remain separated from God. Immediately, on the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden, God began a plan to restore us, and his plan is as simple as John said. It involved the one sacrifice for the sins of all, the Lamb of God, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to change our hearts.
If we can embrace those two gifts of God, Jesus Christ as the price for the sins we commit and the Holy Spirit to teach us and change us we can grow in the knowledge we are pleasing to God. That certainty is called belief and John tells us the key to keeping the commandments is believing in Jesus Christ (1 Jn. 3:23). Believing in Jesus changes everything for us because that belief moves us from focusing on our failures to embracing the gift of forgiveness given to us through the death of Jesus. Believing allows us to come before God unencumbered by our sins and with thanksgiving embrace Jesus as savior and Lord. It is that embrace which then allows us to grow in holiness and discover the meaning and purpose of our lives.
John is retelling us the very words Jesus said to him and the other disciples in that upper room the night before he died. How many ways did Jesus have to tell us if we remain in him and him in us, we will not only believe but we will grow in holiness? With Jesus revealing the Father to us, we can and will reveal the Father to others. Believing is the key to everything we seek from our faith and our faithfulness to follow Jesus. It is not in how well we practice our faith that pleases God, but it is in how well we live our faith. Living our faith calls for us to trust God to be with us always. Living our faith demands us to rely on the promises of God to be manifested in our lives.
Which promise of God do you want to be manifested in your life? How about knowing God is always with us for he promised never to abandon nor forsake us. How about his promise to give us rest if we, when burdened, go to him? How about when he told us not to worry or be afraid about anything because we live in the kingdom of God, we will have all we need. Do we believe or do we need to be reassured as did Thomas? If we pay attention to the scriptures, we ill find we do not have to pick or choose which promise of God we want to have fulfilled in our lives. God promised it all to us and he knows what we need now and what we will need later if only we seek “…first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added” (Mk. 6:33.
Where is our focus as we daily attempt to live a life pleasing to God? Perhaps we need to stop trying to live it according to some perceived image of “holiness.” We need to understand how critical it is to our spiritual lives to attach ourselves to Jesus. That parable of the vine and branches is not a bedtime story to be read and set aside because it soothes us. It is words from Jesus telling us how to live a life not only pleasing to God but one that accomplishes in us a transformation of our hearts.
The simple truth is, we can do nothing apart from Jesus. Yet we seem to be quite comfortable holding to a form of holiness while denying the power God has given us to be holy. Jesus is telling us apart from him we will wither and die but if we root ourselves in him, we will bear fruit.
Perhaps it is time for us to consider if what we are doing is helping us to act on our trust in God’s promises or not. Do we still feel we need to do things to please God? Are we becoming one with Christ or not? Is what we are doing helping us grow in intimacy with Christ or not? Has Christ’s death and resurrection achieved in us that sure and certain knowledge we are forgiven and restored as sons and daughters?
When Jesus said, come follow me, come and see, come and drink, come and touch they were not just words, they were God’s desire expressed to us and demand a response from us.
The words of Jesus recorded for us by John the disciple, amplify the issue we must face and that is if our belief is strong enough to have us focus solely on our response to the gift of Jesus.