Sunday, April 29, 2018


I am the vine, you are the branches.
without me you can do nothing.
John 15

Am I imagining it, or am I just a cranky old man? Is there a growing attitude of people who think and act as if they live on this planet by themselves, displaying a total disregard of how their behaviors affect other people, displaying an attitude of “I am going to do what I want and I don’t give a hoot how it affects you or anybody else”?

Recently, I find my anger level hitting the boiling point when I see people throwing garbage out of car windows, rolling down their car windows and turning their car speakers up so loud it that it rattles the windows of my house, carrying on loud cell phone conversations in public places, letting children run wild in grocery stores and restaurants, trashing public facilities and vandalizing public art, just to name a few.

Our present excessive individualism is, no doubt, a reaction to an over-emphasis on the common good in previous years, when individuals felt crushed and controlled for the sake of the family and the community. I guess it’s the age old story of running off both sides of the road, trying to balance what's good for the community with what's good for the individual.

This is a very old problem. It goes all the way back to the story of Adam and Eve. According to that story, at the end of creation God, humans and the animals lived in harmony. They were interconnected and interdependent. As a colorful Baptist preacher said at one of my graduations, “In the beginning, God was happy being God. The animals were happy being animals. Human beings, however, have never been happy being human beings. They've wanted to be God one day and animals the next!”

Adam and Eve were tempted to believe they could do without God. The serpent convinced Eve that the only reason God had forbidden her and Adam to eat of the fruit in the middle of the garden was that they would become gods like God himself. Their children, Cain and Abel, were tempted to believe that they could do without each other. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” With this, we see the sin of denying our interdependence, and insisting on our independence, begin - a sin that has been repeated in a myriad of ways ever since. Interdependence is the recognition that we are responsible to, and dependent on, God and other people. To deny that fact is a sin. 

The scriptures are full of stories emphasizing our interdependence. Today’s gospel presents us with one of many. In the gospel today, Jesus gives us the parable of the vine and the branches. The Father is the vine grower, Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. Just as Jesus and the Father are one, we are one with Jesus. “Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” We are interconnected, whether we want to recognize it or not. As Celie, in the movie “The Color Purple” put it, “It ain’t easy trying to do without God. Even if you know he ain’t there, trying to do without him is a strain.”

Saint Paul has many more examples of our interdependence. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth.” “Everything is lawful, but not everything builds up. No one should seek his own advantage, but that of his neighbor.” “Avoid giving offense, whether to Jews or Greeks or the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in every way, not seeking my own benefit but rather that of the many, that they may be saved.” “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, through many, are one body. Now the body is not a single part, but many. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.” No part of the body can say to another part I don’t need you!

The Kentucky motto is “United we stand. Divided we fall.” This could be the motto of our country, our church, our parishes, our schools, our marriages, our families and our neighborhoods. It is the message of our scripture today, as well as all of scripture. Some people advocate personal freedom and independence as the ultimate good; others advocate communal responsibility and mutual dependence as the ultimate good. Interdependence recognizes the truth in each position and weaves them together. It is only when people choose independence or dependence only that we get into trouble. We are both independent and dependent in a delicate balance. We are interdependent! We are interconnected and we need each other. The great poet John Donne wrote, "No man is an island, but part of the main." John Muir, the famous conservationist put it this way, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

This is a timely message for our country and our church. In both worlds, there is a meanness and a “them versus us” kind of attitude that make enemies, winners and losers, rather than partners of each other. We cannot do without the immigrants who pick our vegetables, clean our hotel rooms, roof our houses, landscape our lawns, nanny our children and dig our ditches. We cannot do without Middle Eastern oil or clothes from China. We cannot do without people in places like India when we try to get our credit card bills straightened out or our computers fixed.. We are finding out that we cannot even keep our Catholic parishes going in this country without priests from Africa, Poland , Vietnam, the Philippines and Central America. We are not as independent as we think we are. In fact, we are becoming more interdependent than ever, thanks to modern communication and travel.

“A branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine.” This is true spiritually as well as socially.

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