Sunday, 6 May 2012
5th Sunday of Easter, Year B, Shaftesbury
on Jn 15:1-8.
This Sunday I am 42 years old, and I’ve been thinking this week about what lessons I’ve learned through life so far, and, I’m pretty sure, the greatest lesson I’ve learned through the process of living life has been the lesson of failure, that I can fail and do fail. When I was young I used to think I was somehow indestructible and self-sufficient –that failure was not an option for me. Yet, I did fail, have failed, continue to fail, daily. And this is a lesson worth learning and worth learning from.
And failure is a fact of life that we ALL know about in all sorts of different aspects of our lives: in business, in our life ambitions, in love, in the family, and of course, as Christians we all know the failure of sin when we fail to live the demands of the Gospel.
But by itself the lesson of failure is not a great lesson, it's just a fact like any other fact in life. Possibly just a BAD fact that could lead us to despair. Failure only becomes a great lesson when it is seen in the light of Christ.
Christ told us in today's gospel that, "cut off from me you can do nothing"(Jn 15:5), and THIS is the real lesson that failure teaches us. We can all tend to think, and act, as if we were self-sufficient. As if, by ourselves, we could succeed in life. But if a branch cuts itself off from the tree then it withers and dies and is only good to be thrown on the fire. Christ reminds us that it is only if we are grafted onto Him that we can really succeed.
If Christ is the life at work within us then everything that we do will be animated by that person who is Himself the "fullness of life", the person who is the purpose and meaning of life. A life filled with Christ will be better able to be content at work, better at loving and living with our families, and ultimately, a Christ-filled life will be able to reject sin and follow the Gospel.
We know that Christ can still be at work in us even when we have PARTLY forgotten Him, but we also know that when we don't keep Him in mind we can run the risk of allowing obstacles to Him to build up in our lives, obstacles like selfishness and pride.
And it's because God wants to remove those obstacles that He prunes us –to use the imagery in today’s Gospel.
When I was a child I could never understand why, every winter, my parents used to ruthlessly prune the fuchsia bushes in front of our house. When they'd finished there would only be a few bare stalks left. Later I came to realise that this was necessary if they were to grow in the spring.
The pruning of failure can feel like the touch of death, a cold winter that kills off life. But with faith, failure can become an opportunity for new life, because failure can remind us of our dependence on God, and when we renew our reliance on God then we allow His life to be the life of our souls.
Christ reminds us today that "every branch that does bear fruit He prunes to make it bear even more"(Jn 15:2). Pruning hurts, but it is only if a plant is pruned that it is able to grow. And if a plant is not pruned then eventually the little fruit it has will perish.
There are many times in life when we are made aware of our limitations and failings, and these are the times when we experience the simple truth that apart from Christ we can do nothing. But the reverse side of this truth is the fact that WITH Him we can do all things, bearing fruit in plenty. This is the humble and cheerful truth that should console and invigorate us when we experience difficulty.