HOMILY: Knowing Who Has the Right to Prune the Vine

Fr. Brian Zumbrum’s homilies and reflections are posted weekly at Leaven in the World. To see the archive of all his posts, just click hereSalesian Sermons

5th Sunday of Easter | May 2/3, 2015

PROTIP: Before reading on, be sure to take a look at the readings here. This homily is based on the Gospel reading, with references to the first and second readings.

I must admit, this was a difficult week to be an urban educator.

I kept looking around at my city, the city of Wilmington and I could see echoes of Baltimore all around me.

I could see it in the cycles of poverty and violence that plague so many of our neighborhoods.

I could see it in the distrust that is so evident between the police and too many of my neighbors.

I could see it in the eyes of my parents as they discussed the events of Baltimore, all the while praying that they will be able to keep their sons safe from it all.

In the midst of all of this, as images of Baltimore kept cycling in my head, I was tasked with leading my 8th grade students on a discussion about race.

Over the course of 45 minutes, I was constantly reminded of what separate me from my students.

I listened to stories of racial profiling, of murders that occurred in front of them, of poverty, of the language and culture of the “hood” in which they grow up.

I found myself questioning how I could possibly relate to these young men, when my life has been so blessed in comparison.

Confused and troubled, I headed to my office.  A few minutes later a student was sent to me after a difficult class.  As we began to speak, he looked at me and said.  You’re the only one who gets it.  My reply . . . “Get’s what?”  He looked at me and said, You get what our lives are like here in Wilmington.  You see it.  You know.

To be honest, I didn’t understand the point my student was making in the moment.  I sent him back to class and went about my day, still dwelling on the disturbing events of the last week.

But later that week, as I re-read the Gospel for this weekend, I found myself returning to the image of the vine and the branches.

Maybe the key to understanding my student’s comments were right in front of me all along.  Nestled in an image that I have heard proclaimed my entire life.

See maybe the reason why I could see what others couldn’t is because I realized that there is something that connects me with my students, no matter how different we may be.

It is love that unites us, love embodied in the person of Jesus Christ.

See, I do not believe that it was a coincidence that Jesus selected a vine, instead of another plant.  Because vines have this unique property of being able to receive new branches from other vines that are grafted onto it.

And from its very beginnings, the Church has worked to be true to this image by grafting different peoples onto the one vine.  From the earliest struggles to incorporate the Gentiles into the Christian community, the Church has never stopped working to unite all peoples to Christ, no matter how different they may be.

But it is also interesting how Christ makes it abundantly clear who has the right to prune this vine.  Who has the right to cut off branches that are no longer bearing fruit.

It is God’s right and God’s alone.

We seem to have the right to graft new branches on, but we do not have the right to sever ties with any branch that is already united to us.

And I think that is why this past week troubled me so much.

Because it seems that too many of us want to presume that the vine and our particular branches are one and the same.

That our way of seeing the world should determine who is permitted to remain on the vine and who is not.

That our opinions and ours alone should be defined as truth.  All other viewpoints.  All other opinions.  All other perspectives are merely dead branches that need pruning.

And so a gulf grows between the branches.

A gulf grows between races and between neighborhoods.  A gulf grows between political parties and between religions.  A gulf grows between families and between regions of this country.  A gulf grows between our fellow Christians who judge each other’s worthiness to remain on the vine.

And suddenly a white teacher in an urban school begins to question whether he can even relate to the black and Hispanic young men that he teaches.

But, as my student reminded me, this does not have to be.

For we all remain branches of the one vine.

The vine that provides new life to each of us grafted onto it.

A new life that is marked by our ability to see the world differently.

To see the other as our sister and brother.

To see the mother who is fearful for her teenage son because he is black and growing up in a tough part of Chester or Wilmington or Baltimore as our mother.

To see the kid struggling in a failing school system to avoid the path that leads to drug trafficking as our kid.

To see the wife worried about the safety of her husband as he patrols the streets as our wife.

To see the elderly woman tasked with cleaning up the rubble of her home leveled by an earthquake as our grandmother.

To see Christ in the one we do not understand, the one we do not like, the one we fear, the one we hate.  For they too belong to the one vine.

He is the vine, my friends.  We are the branches.  There is no ‘us or them’, only ‘us’.

Let us love one another as he has loved us.

May God be Praised.

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