Jesus proclaims that He is the vine, the Father is the vinedresser, and that the vine together with the branches constitutes a new people of God, the Church. It has always confused me when people assert that the Church has no authority, when it is such an intrinsic part of the salvation that Jesus speaks of in Scripture. St Paul tells us in his letter to Timothy, “I write to you so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of truth.” (1 Timothy 3:14-15). If the Church is the pillar and ground of truth, then how can it have no authority? No, rather, to abide in this vine is to abide in Christ and the Church. And Christ here tells us that if we abide in Him, we will bear good fruits, good works. He states directly that any branch (believer) that does not bear good fruits will be removed. It’s this idea that part of our salvation is the very works that we were created for. This stands in stark contrast to the teaching of today, which, removed from the tradition and authority of the Church, teaches that works should in no way be a part of our salvation. I often wonder how someone can claim Scripture to be any authority whatsoever and then disregard passages like this that so blatantly contradict other teachings that they cling to.
He goes on to state that to abide in His love is to obey His commandments. It is impossible to love God and actively disobey Him. And He offers forth a new commandment. A commandment to love one another, and not just to merely love one another, but to love one another in the same manner as which He loves us. Consider that statement for a moment. Consider what this command implies. How exactly does Jesus love us? Through His actions. And what are those actions? He cares for all those in need, He forgives us regardless of our offenses, He never boasts (though He of anyone who ever walked the earth had the right to), He never sought revenge, instead praying for the forgiveness of not only His disciples, but for the very men who crucified Him. He laid down His life for us while we were still His enemies. And this is His command, this is the love with which He calls us to love one another; not merely for other believers, but for all mankind.
Far too often, however, even when we manage to apply this principle, it is only to others in the Church. That is never what Jesus has taught though. To the contrary, He taught us to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…for if you only love those who love you, what profit is it? Do not even tax collectors do the same?” (Matthew 5:44,46). To display this mercy, this compassion, this love only to other believers will never lead anyone to Christ. To choose in our own mind, based on our own preferences, who will receive this love will never display the love of Christ to the world. It is when we care for all those in need, regardless of their beliefs, that we display this love that Jesus commands us to. I see frequently a church having a soup kitchen where the hungry go and must sit through a 30 minute lecture before they are able to eat, almost like some sort of spiritual blackmail. When we attach conditions to this compassion, we are not displaying the unconditional love of Christ. It is when we look upon those in need with true compassion, free from ulterior motives, that we display this true love that Christ compels us to. It is then, and only then, that the world looks at the Church and truly says, “wow, there’s something different about these people. I want that,” in much the same way as the early Church would fast and offer instead their food to the hungry, to the poor, to those in prison. When we, free from judgment, and free from ulterior motives, show sincere compassion to the world, then we are truly displaying this love of Christ, who was willing to sacrifice Himself for us, while we were His enemies.
Christ is in our midst.