There is always a temptation to put limits on God, to say, in effect, that God cannot do this or that unless this or that happens.
We find such a scenario in today’s first reading. Some Jewish Christians from Jerusalem came down to the church in Antioch and told converts to the faith from paganism, Gentile Christians, ‘Unless you have yourselves circumcised in the tradition of Moses, you cannot be saved’.
They were saying in effect, ‘Much as God would like to include you among those who will inherit eternal life, he is powerless unless you have yourselves circumcised’. We don’t have to go back as far as the Acts of the Apostles to find such a mind-set. In living memory, we have allowed ourselves to think that we cannot find favour with God unless we follow certain rules or rituals or long standing customs.
However, God cannot be boxed in like that. Today’s gospel reading is taken from the gospel of John and earlier in that gospel Jesus says to Nicodemus, ‘the Spirit blows where it chooses’. Because God is all loving towards us, God is completely free in our regard in a way we can never understand. God’s love towards us has been fully revealed in Jesus. In one of his letters, Paul speaks about ‘the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge’.
Because our relationship with the Lord is one of love, there is nothing mechanical about that relationship, whereby if we do one thing, he becomes free to do something else. There is nothing less mechanical than the image of the vine and the branches that Jesus offers us in today’s gospel reading.
It is a vibrant, living, dynamic, image. If Jesus is the vine and we are the branches, it is difficult to know where the vine ends and the branches begin. Jesus invites us to make our home in him, as he makes his home in us. He desires an intimate relationship with us, a relationship of love. It is an empowering relationship, just as the vine empowers the branches to bear fruit. As we grow in our relationship, our friendship, with the Lord, something of his love that surpasses knowledge will become visible in our own lives.
Fr. John Peter Kigoowa Parish.