Most of us have a natural aversion to spiders. Rather than marvel at a delicately woven web in the corner of a room, we cannot wait to destroy it. The spider dangling from the ceiling does not evoke amazement in us at his feat, he disgusts us or even causes fear. But spiders have a lesson for us.
The spider moves through life with complete confidence. He has within himself all that is necessary. If he wants to get from the ceiling to the floor, he only needs to reach inside himself. The more he gives of himself, the further he is able to progress. Destroy a web today, and you may find it rebuilt tomorrow.
That is the lesson the apostles had to learn after Jesus had left them. They no longer had the luxury of Jesus’ physical presence, He was no longer there to solve their problems, or to tell them what to do. He wasn’t there to preach, to teach, to heal. They had to learn to reach inside themselves as individuals, and as a community.
Things have not changed. Christ does not walk in our towns or our cities. He no longer heals or works miracles in person, He is no longer physically present. But we are.
If we want to be His disciples, we must reach inside ourselves and do as He did: preach, teach, and work miracles. We must raise the dead, give sight to the blind, and open the ears of the deaf.
When you take the time to explain something to anyone who does not understand something, helping someone who is struggling with a problem, helping them to find a solution, isn’t that just a little bit like opening the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf? To a great extent we have to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world.
If the words of Christ are to be spoken, it is through our mouths. If the wounds of the world are touched, it is through our hands. If the horrors of the earth are responded to, it is because we have seen them with our eyes and heard them with our ears.
As the spider starts his web, he makes sure that it is attached to something solid, something that will last and that will support him. This is Jesus’ point in today’s Gospel: I am the vine, you are the branches. Apart from Me you can do nothing.
The vine itself does everything for the branches. Apart from the vine, the branches are empty sticks, withering and lifeless, but on the vine the branches are vibrant and living, filled with fruitfulness and usefulness. And when those branches flourish, what a difference it can make to our world. They give of themselves, for the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, it needs the vine to nourish and strengthen it.
We are all different branches attached to the same vine. We make up the Christian community and our Christian faith is always communal, never isolationist. If Christianity does not begin with the individual, it does not begin: but if it ends with the individual, it ends.
That is why we come together every week. Only by gathering together do we become the church of Jesus. Only by gathering together do we give visibility to Jesus and His church.
Each time we gather we show people where they can find the risen Jesus in today’s world. This is one of the reasons Jesus said to His followers in the sermon on the mount, You are like light for the whole world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid: in the same way, your light must shine before people so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.
He must be in our thoughts and our speech, in our morality and ethics. Because of us, people should know or at least suspect that Christ is alive and loves them enough to die for them.
There was this delightful Peanuts cartoon. It depicted Linus eating a peanut butter sandwich. He walked into a room and said, “What a wonderful hand I have. It could do so many wonderful things: brain surgery, conduct an orchestra, paint great pictures.”
By this time he had finished his peanut butter sandwich, and was holding out both hands: “These hands are so great, they could save the world!” Lucy looked up at him and said, “Linus, your hands are full of peanut butter.”
We all have peanut butter on our hands. Do not let that stop us from reaching inside of ourselves to be like Christ. He is the vine, you are the branches.