Jn 15.1-8                 AA 9.26-31            1Jn 3.18-24

Following on from the image or metaphor of the Good Shepherd, now we have John’s portrayal of Jesus connecting with his believers as the true vine and we the branches, destined to produce the good fruits of the Spirit.

Once again, Jesus takes a common example from life and nature, in order to engage his listeners in understanding the need to connect with him personally, in a relationship which bonds and strengthens the person trying to live the Gospel in challenging circumstances.

When John was writing, there was persecution all around, and Christians were not having an easy time.  John is also concerned with the diversity of followers of Jesus coming into conflict with each other, rather than focussing on their common ground of faith in Jesus, and so applying his message of peace, love and good will to all. It’s certainly easier said than done, isn’t it?

As we commemorated Anzac Day on Thursday, the reminder is always there of the horrors and suffering of war, not just of combatants, but also of civilians and families in general, as well as the long term after-effects of the wounded in body and mind, with long term PTSD as an inevitable consequence for survivors.

Economics commentator, Ross Gittins, makes the point that in war, the so-called victors are not necessarily those who think they are in the right, but those who have the most weapons, and so the most money to have purchased or manufactured them in the first place.

Talk of a ‘just war’ seems fair enough when it comes to something like World War II, where the evils of Nazism, Fascism and anti-Semitism needed to be confronted and defeated.  Yet, World War I achieved very little that was positive, apart from millions of lives lost, ongoing suffering, and mass destruction on an unbelievable scale. And let’s remember, it was between so-called Christian countries in Britain and Germany, with Russia in on the conflict too, and later the USA.  The same could be said of the American Civil War, and the Napoleonic Wars too.  Then there were the earlier religious wars, fought over differences in interpretation of doctrine and tradition.

It has been said that the trouble with Christianity is that it hasn’t been tried adequately, but that the emphasis on human differences has tended to win out, in terms of religion, ethnicity, skin colour in general, and of course economics, wealth and power.  Still, the essence of the fundamental message of Jesus is about love and peace.  Yet it has been so often lost in the mist and confusion, with misunderstanding and lack of trust of each other, particularly the one who is different, whatever about our common DNA and humanity!

Some things were learned after World War II, however, where the Marshall Plan ensured that support was given to the civilian populations of the defeated nations, and “In Germany and Japan, the occupying powers put great emphasis on restoration, with the result that both became major industrial powers within a generation.” This required forgiveness and reconciliation on a massive scale, but obviously helped move things forward, far more than maintaining hostility and seeking vengeance.  In some ways, we could see this as an ironic outcome, but obviously of great benefit to peace and stability in Europe and Japan.

And then the establishment of economic institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization, have all have contributed to maintaining the peace, not to forget the United Nations, which we might wish had more power to act as an effective peacekeeper in a troubled world.

And here we are today, in a world still fraught with ongoing conflict, whilst we wish and pray for peace, feeling helpless on the sidelines. It was largely the innocent civilian population who suffered much, on all sides, and who couldn’t really be blamed for the horrors of war anyway.

Pope Francis has constantly called for peaceful solutions to the many conflicts in the world at present. We can only continue to hope and pray that something of his message might get through in the end.

It is a year or so since parishioner Laurie Larmer died, just short of 100.  His story is worth retelling, in the way he wrote to the mayors of the 9 German cities he had bombed as a pilot in 1945:  “As I am in my 92nd year, and as this is the 70th anniversary of the end of that dreadful event (WWII), I want to take the opportunity to express my sincere sympathy to your people for what was really a side effect of what happened that day.”

He received a number of positive responses of gratitude, summed up by this one, from the German Embassy in Canberra: “There is hardly anything better than your letters to show how far reconciliation really stretches.  Enemies can become friends, and your letter and that reaction in Germany has clearly shown that.”  If only humanity would learn from the mistakes and disasters of the past!

As my priest friend Kevin Burke, our mate, originally from Essendon, says in an “Age” letter published this last week: “Well may we say ‘Lest we forget.’ Let’s not forget returned service people, especially those broken bodily, emotionally or in spirit. Let’s not forget that the cause of wars can be traced back to troubled hearts and twisted minds of people like us.”

And I like Claude Mostowik’s conclusion on today’s Gospel: “War, violence, walls, borders and exclusiveness mock the Risen One who was passionate about life, peace and justice, calls us to do life differently. We are an interconnected human community, part of a global family, responsible for one another. Our actions or lack of action has consequences. As branches grafted on Jesus, we are called to be his heart in the world.”

And so, we continue to seek peace and love in our own hearts, our families, our community and our troubled world.  This is how we produce the good fruits from the vine, where Jesus is at the centre of it all for those of us with faith and a determination to live the Gospel in our own lives.

john hannon                                                                         28th  April  2024

Brendan Byrne SJ comments: “Some hearers will fasten on the detail about the withered branches being collected and thrown on the fire, and interpret it as a reference to Hell. It is not necessary to take the allegory so far in this direction; better to stay within the image, which simply wants to affirm the uselessness of such branches and hence the necessity of remaining united with Christ.”

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