Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Wednesday in the 5th Week of Easter
Clinging to the Vinedresser

Recently I had a lunch date with a few old friends several of whom I’d not seen for many years. We had a delightful time catching up. And, as one would expect when there’s a person of the cloth present, several shall we say controversial issues were raised in our conversation. Here are some examples: Is it alright to do yoga? Or are you opening yourself to demonic influences? What about the recent move to decriminalize certain sexual offences? What is the church’s stand on this? What stand should a faithful Catholic take? And what about the recent change in the local church’s practice regarding abstinence on Fridays? Why the change? Can we still choose to abstain? Are we being too relaxed?

A brief weekday homily like this is probably not an appropriate occasion to address these issues adequately. But, in reflecting upon the Mass readings of today, we may at least find some guidance as to how we might go about seeking some answers.

The metaphor of the vinedresser pruning the vine and cutting off branches that bare no fruit is particularly helpful, especially when considered together with the controversy that is unfolding in the first reading. The issue facing the early church is clear: should circumcision be required of gentile Christians? And we all know the answer that was ultimately arrived at. But perhaps it is just as, if not more, important also to consider how the controversy arose and how it was resolved. We may first presume that both sides to the dispute have noble intentions. Both are concerned to do what Jesus is asking of us in the gospel today: to remain in me. Yet, both have very different ideas as to what this means. Does remaining in Christ require circumcision or not? Here we have a useful insight to remember: the desire and effort to remain in Christ can actually lead to legitimate differences of opinion and even to heated arguments between equally committed members of the faithful. And it is often precisely through such disagreements and negotiations that the Divine Vinedresser prunes his vine to make it bear more fruit. In this case, the branch that is the requirement of circumcision will eventually be cut off, thus paving the way for the spread of Christianity far beyond its humble Jewish origins.

But in order for such pruning to take place, all parties to the disagreement must at least be willing to listen attentively to the opponents and to consider the possibility that God might be speaking through them. Indeed, the fruitfulness of such debates depends very much on the ability to do this, which in turn depends on the answer to one crucial question. Are the parties attached above all else to the vinedresser? Or are they merely clinging stubbornly to their favorite portion of the vine?

As we negotiate the various difficult issues that come our way, to whom or what do we cling?

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