5th Sunday of Easter (Year B)

Uncover the depths of God's love and His mission to save us, even in the darkest corners of human depravity and despair.


First Reading: Acts 9:26-31

  • Barnabas’ name famously means ‘son of encouragement’. How did he encourage the church regarding Paul? How might we offer encouragement to our church community today?
  • The summary paragraphs that appear in parts of Acts are very instructive. We have such a summary here, where we are told that the churches throughout Judaea, Galilee and Samaria were left in peace. Look back to Jesus’ commission at the beginning of Acts; the stage is set for the final act – the mission to the whole world.

Psalm: Psalm 21(22): 26-28, 30-32

  • What is the ‘great assembly’ mentioned here? Through a Christological lens we can see this as referring to the Church; living and deceased. The Book of Revelation gives powerful images of this worshipful reality.
  • The word ‘sacrament’ is related to the concept of a vow or an oath. The psalm here makes reference to our vows – the commitment we make to the New Covenant when we partake of the Sacraments. The psalmist, though, completes the couplet here by referring to feeding the poor; our commitment to worship the Lord must also be expressed in meeting the practical needs of our brothers and sisters.

Second Reading: 1 John 3:18-24

  • Picking up on that thread from the psalm above, the reading from 1 John calls us to practical and active love—charity. This passage is so emphatic that our knowing that we are children of God is contingent on our practical living out of charity and love.
  • The latter part of this passage is dense but worth pondering deeply. It speaks powerfully of the communion of the person with God when we live lives of loving integrity in union with Jesus and the Holy Spirit he has given us. Do you experience this kind of profound communion? How might you strive to live more in charity?

Gospel: John 15:1-8

  • The image of pruning is a powerful one. Any gardener knows that growth should not be unchecked and unmanaged. There comes a time when pruning is necessary. It can appear to be a destructive act, and at times a gardener is emotionally reluctant to do it to a beloved plant, but it is absolutely necessary to allow fresh growth and ensure the plant’s long-term vitality. It also has to be timed well.
  • Notice that the gospel tells us that God is the one who does the pruning, not ourselves. This should be an encouragement! When parts of our lives are cut away, even good parts of our lives that have been bearing fruit (perhaps a job or a volunteering project), it can seem destructive in the moment. But in the long term, we can trust God’s wise timing and loving intentions. We should also remember that God’s concerns are wider than just our material needs. He is also concerned with our spiritual growth and vitality.


Last week we looked at the Father’s incredible love for us. It breaks all boundaries. There is a popular contemporary worship song that says of God’s love: “it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine. I couldn’t earn it, I don’t deserve it”.

God’s love and desire to save reach the very depths of human depravity and despair. No situation is so bleak or so rotten that God’s love cannot chase us down, fight for us, and welcome us into his family. Someone reading this reflection could need to hear that with crystal clear clarity: God can forgive you, even you.

That is the gospel, isn’t it?

In light of that, though, don’t you find the reading from Acts a challenge not just to pay lip service, but to live it out in practice?

The early community of believers in Jerusalem had been more than persecuted or oppressed; they had been hunted down. Saul of Tarsus was one of the most vociferous and vicious of those hunters, breathing, as Acts puts it, “threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1). Spurred on by a zeal for the purity of God’s law, he sought to wipe out the church in its infancy. Today’s gospel gives us the familiar gardening image of pruning to allow for more growth; Saul wanted to take out the plant – roots and all – and burn it to ash.

How shocking, then, when this man experienced a radical change of heart and began to not only call himself a Christian but to work as a zealous apostle! I think we’d have to say we empathise with the Jerusalem church when we’re told they were afraid of him: “they could not believe he was really a disciple” (Acts 9:26).

They doubted the sincerity of his conversion. They doubted the reality of God’s power to transform and save lives, even lives like Saul of Tarsus.

It’s easy to say that God can, of course, save anyone. As hypotheticals, we readily agree that God is capable of that. We might even be willing to say that God would want to be that loving and forgiving. But when we see it in person, can we handle it?

How would you feel if someone with Saul’s track record turned up at Mass on a Sunday morning? Would you be able to offer your hand to them at the sign of peace?

But we do need to be extremely careful. People can approach the Church with ulterior motives or false stories. We mustn’t be gullible. Indeed, Scripture bears that out in the very same Book of Acts: We’re told the Bereans were “more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11).

The difference, I think, is this: we should be prudent, discerning, and cautious. But we should not be fearful. Nor should we doubt God’s ability or willingness to save even the worst sinner.

If we slip into the territory of thinking God can’t or won’t forgive such and such a person; what does that say about the cross or us? Was Jesus not enough? You see, all of this always goes right back to Jesus. He’s at the heart of everything. How we treat people who come to Mass, or who we bump into in the street, or sit next to on the bus: all of that reflects what we believe about Jesus. Is he enough? Is the cross enough?



  • The Church as a ‘Field Hospital’, Pope Francis’ homily of 03.02.2015
  • Salvation, justification, and grace: CCC 1987-2005 (Catechism of the Catholic Church)