We have said several times during this Easter season that the resurrection of Jesus proves he is the Messiah. And as we continue this celebration of Easter towards Pentecost, our preconceived ideas of Messiah is corrected as Jesus reveals himself in his resurrection. In today’s Gospel Jesus again tells us I am the true vine and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. Following the Messiah is not all glory and celebration. Jesus tells us he removes branches that do not bear fruit. The criteria for being in the vine is whether a branch bears fruit or not. Those who do not bear fruit will be removed. But those who bear fruit will be pruned. This means there will be suffering when we live in Jesus. The suffering though are not useless. Sufferings happen to make us bear more fruit.
Our society rejects suffering because it does not see the purpose of it. But for those who live in Christ, our sufferings are our share in the suffering of Christ, which makes us bear more fruit. We cannot answer why we suffer in specific situations. But we know Jesus is with us in the suffering and God can use these for our good: to make us bear fruit. Bearing much fruit is proof we live the life God has planned for us. Jesus said: if you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. When we live the life God has planned for us, our desires are transformed to be what God wants. What God wants is only the best for us. And when we ask what is best for us – from God’s perspective, we are sure to receive what we ask. But the important criteria is what is best for us from God’s perspective and not our own imagination. Quite often, because of our weakness, we think we know what God wants for us and we assume what we want is what God wants. Suffering purifies our desire because it makes us realize how helpless we are, and God is the only One who matters.
This is what happened in the First Reading. When Saul became a believer, his life was not easy. People were afraid because they would not believe Saul is believer. The believers judged Saul based on what he did. He persecuted believers, so the believers were afraid of him. But when Barnabas took Saul and brought him to the Apostles and vouched for Saul, he was accepted. Saul had to suffer, to realize the pain and suffering he had caused before he was received. And we also see in the First Reading, Saul’s life was threatened because those he argued with wanted to kill him. And Saul had to be sent off to his hometown. What can we learn from this? Life in Christ is not easy. We will suffer. But God uses these sufferings to form us into the person he wants us to be.
Why do we suffer? Does God not love us? Love, divine love, results in suffering. St John tells us in the Second Reading: let us love not in word or speech but in truth and action. This is divine love. It is a love that gives of ourselves for the good of others. We will be rejected, we will suffer. Jesus himself was killed because he would not stop giving of himself for us. Should in the midst of these sufferings, we look at ourselves and think God has abandoned us, St John tells us: God is greater than our hearts, and God knows everything. When we suffer, we look at our hearts and examine it and see if we have sinned against God. And when we can honestly say we have not sinned against God, then St John says: we have boldness before God; and w receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.
If we are suffering today, we look into our hearts to see if we have sinned against God. If we have, we need to repent and be responsible for whatever the consequences. If we have not sinned, then we can approach God with confidence and obey his commandment, which St John says: this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another.
Lord, only you know my heart. Reveal to me if I have offended you. Reveal to me what you want me to do, so I can believe in Jesus and do as he wills.