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Sunday, April 29, 2018

I Am The True Vine

Sermon by Fr. Joseph Mungai, FMH

Fifth Sunday of Easter, April 29, 2018
Hospital Chaplaincy, Long Island, New York

Many of us are familiar with the American Indian story about a young man who found an eagle’s egg and put it into the nest of a prairie chicken. The eaglet hatched with the brood of prairie chickens and grew up with them. 
All its life, the misplaced eagle thought it was a prairie chicken and did only what the prairie chickens did. It scratched in the dirt for seeds and insects to eat. And it flew no more than a few feet off the ground with a thrashing of wings like other prairie chickens.

Years passed and the unfortunate eagle grew very old. One day, it saw a magnificent bird high above in the cloudless sky. Hanging with graceful majesty on the powerful wind currents, it soared gracefully on its strong golden wings. “What a beautiful bird!” said the unfortunate eagle to its neighbour. 

“That’s an eagle, the chief of the birds,” the neighbour replied, “But don’t give it a second thought. You could never be like him.” So the poor eagle never gave it a second thought and it died thinking it was a prairie chicken.

This frightening story underlies the importance of what we identify ourselves with. Human beings are like vine branches; we need a vine in which to graft and root ourselves. The vine into which we are grafted and rooted conditions the way we see ourselves, the expectations we have of
ourselves, and the ceiling of achievement we place on ourselves. Vines come in many
shapes and colours each soliciting our primary allegiance. They come in the form of nationalism such as Nazism, ideology such as communism, and religion such as the cults. Materialism, pleasure and power are among the most popular vines of our times. Once we identify ourselves with a false vine, it immediately conditions and determines how we see ourselves and what we do with our lives.

The Jews whom Jesus was addressing in today’s gospel (John 15:1-8) knew very well the vine on which they were supposed to be grafted and rooted. Many times in the Old Testament the religious and national entity Israel was referred to as the vine (Psalm 80:8; Isaiah 5:7; Hosea 10:1) which the hand of God had planted (Psalm 80:15; Jer 2:21). The Maccabees even minted a coin in which a vine was used to represent Israel. So when Jesus claimed that he was now the vine they would understand that as an invitation to shift their primary allegiance from Jewish nationalism to the Person and message of Christ.  To make sure they get it, Jesus makes the claim that He is not just the
vine but the true vine. The word “true” (in Greek al├ęthinoshere signifies that which is real, authentic and valid, as opposed to that which is flawed, imperfect or false. To accept Jesus as the true vine into which our lives are grafted and rooted is to regard every human ideology or institution which recommends itself to us as an object of primary allegiance as flawed, imperfect or false.

The misguided eagle in our story was like a branch grafted on a false or imperfect vine. That is why it remained false or imperfect all its life. If a wise bird had told it the truth about itself it would have shifted its self-identification from that of a prairie chicken to that of an eagle. This radical shift in self-understanding would then enable it to produce in its life the marvellous feats for which eagles are known.

Today that word of wisdom is being addressed to us: to stop identifying ourselves primarily in terms of nation, social or economic status, race, gender or religious affiliation. Rather we should see ourselves in
terms of our oneness with Christ just as the branch and the vine are one. Then and only then shall we be able to bear good fruit, the same type of fruit that Christ Himself bears.

We know the pathetic story of Cardinal Wolsey who, under King Henry VIII of England, gave his primary allegiance to the state rather than to God. On his deathbed he left us these words of wisdom: “If I had served God as diligently as I have done the king, He would not have given me over in my gray hairs." His life was like that of the
unfortunate eagle in the story. The gospel invites us today to know better: to graft and root ourselves as  branches into the True Vine, Jesus Christ






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