Cycle B 5th Sunday of Easter

 Acts 9:26-31; 1 Jn. 3:18-24; Jn. 15:1-8

In the Gospel, Jesus offers what must have been a familiar image to explain what it means to live in his love, and how we can “measure” the love that gives us life. “I am the vine, and you are the branches… Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. He is within us and in our community. His words have great power to transform us.

In the book of Hebrews, we encounter a powerful declaration about the Word of God: "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12). These words remind us that the Scriptures are not mere words on a page but are living and dynamic, capable of transforming lives in profound ways. Today, let us explore this passage and discover how the Word of God has the power to change us from the inside out.

Throughout the Old Testament, we see examples of the Word of God at work, bringing about transformation in the lives of individuals and communities. Consider the story of Moses, who encountered the living Word in the burning bush on Mount Horeb. Through this encounter, Moses was called to lead the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt, demonstrating the transformative power of God's word to shape the course of history.

Additionally, the prophets of the Old Testament were entrusted with delivering God's word to His people, calling them to repentance and obedience. The prophet Isaiah, for example, proclaimed the word of the Lord with boldness, challenging the people of Israel to turn away from their sinful ways and return to God. Through the prophetic utterances of Isaiah and others, hearts were convicted, and lives were changed.

Hebrews 4:12 describes the Word of God as sharper than any two-edged sword, capable of penetrating to the deepest recesses of our being. Just as a surgeon's scalpel cuts through tissue to bring healing, so too does the Word of God penetrate our hearts, exposing our innermost thoughts and intentions. This process of conviction and illumination leads to repentance and renewal, bringing about true transformation.

Consider the story of the Apostle Paul, formerly known as Saul of Tarsus. On the road to Damascus, Paul encountered the living Christ in a blinding light (Acts 9:1-19). In that moment, the Word of God pierced through his hardened heart, revealing the truth of Jesus as the Messiah. Paul's life was forever changed, and he went on to become one of the greatest champions of the Christian faith, preaching the gospel with boldness and conviction.

In Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel "The Scarlet Letter," we encounter the character of Hester Prynne, a woman condemned by society for her perceived sin of adultery. Throughout the novel, Hester grapples with the consequences of her actions, but it is through the words of the minister, Arthur Dimmesdale, that she finds redemption.

Dimmesdale's sermons, infused with themes of repentance and grace, touch Hester's heart and lead her to confront her own guilt and shame. Ultimately, it is through the power of words—both spoken and written—that Hester finds healing and reconciliation.

The transformative power of the Word is not confined to the pages of Scripture or works of literature but is evident in the lives of real people. One powerful example of the transformative power of the Word of God in the life of a saint is found in the story of St. Augustine of Hippo. Augustine, born in North Africa in 354 AD, lived a life marked by intellectual pursuits and moral ambiguity before his conversion to Christianity.

Raised by a devout Christian mother, Monica, Augustine initially rebelled against the teachings of the Church and pursued a hedonistic lifestyle. Despite his mother's prayers and guidance, Augustine remained resistant to the Gospel message. However, through a series of providential encounters and his own intellectual journey, Augustine eventually found himself drawn to the Scriptures.

One pivotal moment in Augustine's conversion came when he heard a voice urging him to "take up and read". In obedience to this inner prompting, Augustine picked up a copy of the Epistles of St. Paul and read Romans 13:13-14, which says, "Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires."

In that moment, the words of Scripture pierced Augustine's heart like a two-edged sword, convicting him of his sinful lifestyle and calling him to repentance. He later wrote in his Confessions, "Instantly, at the end of this sentence, by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away." Augustine's encounter with the living Word of God led to his profound conversion and transformation.

Following his conversion, Augustine went on to become one of the most influential theologians and Church Fathers in Christian history. His writings, including works such as "The Confessions" and "The City of God," continue to inspire and shape Christian thought to this day.

The example of St. Augustine serves as a powerful testament to the transformative power of the Word of God. Through the Scriptures, God spoke directly to Augustine's heart, leading him out of darkness and into the light of faith. His life stands as a reminder that no one is beyond the reach of God's grace and that the Word of God has the power to change even the hardest of hearts.

Another compelling example of the transformative power of the Word of God in the life of a modern individual is the story of Chuck Colson. Colson, born in 1931, was known for his involvement in politics as a key figure in the Nixon administration. However, it was a dramatic turn of events that ultimately led to his conversion and a life devoted to serving Christ.

Colson's life took a significant turn when he became embroiled in the Watergate scandal, which ultimately led to his imprisonment for obstruction of justice. While serving his sentence in federal prison, Colson experienced a profound spiritual awakening. It was during this time that he encountered the Word of God in a deeply personal way.

In his autobiography, "Born Again," Colson recounts how he initially scoffed at the idea of Christianity while in prison. However, through the persistent witness of fellow inmates and the reading of Scripture, Colson began to wrestle with questions of faith and morality. One pivotal moment came when a friend gave him a copy of C.S. Lewis' book "Mere Christianity," which laid out the rational and philosophical underpinnings of the Christian faith.

As Colson delved into the teachings of Scripture and the writings of Christian thinkers, he was struck by the truth of the Gospel message and the transformative power of Christ's love. In a moment of surrender, Colson experienced a profound conversion, committing his life to following Christ and serving others.

Following his release from prison, Colson founded Prison Fellowship, an organization dedicated to ministering to prisoners and their families. Through his work with Prison Fellowship and other ministries, Colson became a leading voice for prison reform and criminal justice reform, advocating for the rehabilitation and redemption of those behind bars.

Colson's life stands as a powerful testimony to the transformative power of the Word of God. Through his encounter with Scripture and the love of Christ, Colson was able to find forgiveness, redemption, and purpose in the midst of his darkest hour. His life serves as a reminder that no one is beyond the reach of God's grace and that the Word of God has the power to change lives, even in the most unlikely of circumstances.

To be faithful in our life as Christians, in the world as we know it today, requires a vital, life-giving experience of encountering Christ as well as a sense of commitment to the cause of the Kingdom. We may be occupied by many things, distracted by less important activities, involved in activities that make it difficult to remain “attached to the vine.” And yet it is essential that we remain united with Christ. The Word of God has the power to transform us and equip us to continue God's mission on earth. As we engage with the Word of God, it shapes our minds, hearts, and actions. The psalmist writes, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Psalm 119:105). The Word illuminates our way, guiding us toward a deeper understanding of God's will and purposes for our lives.

Remember the words of Jesus, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”