Apart from me you can do nothing

May 3, 2012

The Pastor's Page

Picture taken at Holy Spirit in Two Harbors, MN.

The Last Supper Discourse.  After dinner on Holy Thursday night, Jesus spoke at length to his disciples.  After he had given them the New Commandment to love one another, explained that there is a dwelling place for each of them in the Father’s heavenly mansion, and promised the Holy Spirit, he declared, “I am the true vine” (Jn 15:1), “You are the branches” (Jn 15:5), and he made the profound observation:  “A branch cannot bear fruit on its own” (Jn 15:4).  “Apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5).

American Productivity, the Achievement Myth.  Beginning with early childhood, we are taught to be productive, to make something of ourselves.  Children are taught to be good students, and a youngster who has done well may say:  “I studied hard.  I earned really good grades.”  A star athlete may say:  “I hustled and gave my best effort.  I led the team in scoring.  I achieved all-conference at the end of the season.”  A mechanic may be able to say, “I fixed this engine”; a sales representative may be able to say, “I led my department in sales this month”; or a cook may be able to say, “I prepared this excellent meal.”

A Dangerous Mindset.  The operative pronoun is “I.”  We get caught up with ourselves.  We are focused on our own achievements.  We think we have accomplished so much.  We are led to believe that the more we accomplish, the more worthwhile we are, the better the person we are.  And we deserve to be noticed, and we ought to be congratulated, thanked, and rewarded.

Pause and Reconsider.  Jesus made a stunning statement:  “Apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5).  Every single one of our accomplishments is by the grace of God.  Jesus is the vine, the source of all of our talents and blessings.  We are only branches, not the vine.  The gifts flow through the vine to the branches, and these gifts are rich and varied:  loving parents and a good family; intelligence, the ability to concentrate, good teachers, good resources; good health, physical strength, coordination, motivation, opportunity, good coaches, good teammates; an outgoing personality, persuasiveness, a good product, a good manager; the availability of good ingredients, good recipes, good refrigeration, and ample time.  Yes, we may have achieved something, but whatever good we have may have done, if it had not been for what we had received through the vine, we would have produced no fruit at all.

To God Goes the Glory!  Our successes start with the vine, “It is God who … begets in you any measure of desire or achievement” (Phil 2:13, NAB 1970), and our successes end with the vine, “O Lord … it is you who have accomplished all we have done” (Is 26:12).  Jesus was absolutely correct when he stated, “Apart from me you can do nothing,” and if our accomplishments are because of blessings we have received through the vine from God, then to God goes the glory!

About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael A. Van Sloun is the pastor of Saint Bartholomew of Wayzata, MN. Ministerial interests include weekly Bible study, articles on theological topics, religious photography, retreats on Cross spirituality, and pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

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