In the Confessional that I use at St. Paul’s, I have copies of different prayers and reflections that I often give as penances. One of these comes from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. It is referred to as “The 3rd Step Prayer.” I give it out because I see it as a helpful prayer, whether the confessor is an alcoholic or addict or not. When I think about it, the 3rd Step of Alcoholics could also be helpful: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.” In different ways, I see our Scripture readings for today as connected to the idea of surrendering our will and our lives over to the care of God.
In our Gospel reading from John, Jesus uses the image of a vine and branches to express His relationship with us: “Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.” Jesus is calling us to trust in Him even more than we trust in our own devices. We are called to turn ourselves over to Him, and in Him, to bear much fruit, for the sake of the world.
In our other readings, we see some of the implications of trusting in God. In our second reading from 1 John, the author writes: “Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth. Now this is how we shall know that we belong to the truth and reassure our hearts before him in whatever our hearts condemn, for God is greater than our hearts and knows everything.” Often our hearts can be led to condemn ourselves or others. We can be dissatisfied with ourselves and conclude that we have little or no value. Or we can fall into believing stereotypes and comments based on prejudice and bigotry. But we are reminded that God “is greater than our hearts and knows everything.” And what God has revealed about what He knows is that we are all beloved by God, and have value and worth by that fact alone. And so, trusting in God and surrendering to the Divine Will, we find ourselves able to love “in deed and in truth.”
In our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, the disciples in Jerusalem had to trust in God rather than their own preconceptions. They knew Saul as a persecutor, and so were afraid of him when he came to join them. It took God using Barnabas to reassure them about Saul’s conversion, so that they not only supported Saul but sent him to Tarsus to get him out of harm’s way.
I know it’s counter-intuitive to think that surrendering to someone else can come to any good at all. But if we trust in God, we find that turning ourselves over to Him opens the way for us to bear much fruit and be a blessing for others. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches, and we can have abundant life in Him!
In the Risen Christ,
Fr. Phil, CP