The True Vine – Fifth Sunday in Easter
“I am the vine, you are the branches.”
I found helpful a short article in the March 21, 2021 issue of The Catholic Register. Jacob Stocking offers a reflection on chapter 15 of John’s Gospel, including its image of the true vine.
Stocking points out that many “have completely lost their connections to the vine, and wither away under the pressures of an increasingly secular society.” He stresses that through Jesus, we are all connected. He says, “we are all branches on the same vine and must work together to grow Jesus’ message and spread it throughout the vineyard that is our world.”
Stocking goes on to offer a few practical examples of the ways in which that spread happens. The conclusion of his column states, “A grapevine bears fruit because its branches share a common purpose, and by finding our purpose through abiding in God so we will also [bear fruit].”
Jesus today speaks of pruning. His criterion for deciding what is lopped off seems to be fruitlessness. “Every branch in me that bears no fruit he cuts away.” Good pruning requires horticultural discernment. Others of us just chop away, hoping that our labours are helpful.
Once upon a time I spent plenty of time gardening. It was much more than a hobby. It was a help for staying sane in stressful and difficult situations. Though, allow a corrective. It was a stress reliever in my multiple roles in a period of tremendous change at our Jesuit presence in Guelph in the 1990s. It was pure pleasure in my days as novice director in Saint Paul, MN, early in the third millennium.
Stress relief and/or pleasure. As any gardener knows, pruning is a significant part of our gardening. I never liked pruning bushes and trees. I had great doubts about my abilities. Some gardeners are experts. They look carefully and know exactly what needs to be sacrificed. Or they pretend to know!
My approach was more intuitive guesswork. I would chop off and straighten up and look from a distance. Do I like what I see? Or should I go back to chopping? That is clearly not the way of Jesus!
The image of the vine and the branches has plenty of lessons for our lives. One of those which does not get mentioned in today’s Gospel reading is a reminder about our connections to one another. A single branch is connected to the tree. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.”
We need to add that the single vine is connected to others. That’s why I appreciated Stocking’s piece.
One of the challenges of this scripture passage is for us to recognize our close relationship with Jesus. I am a branch, but he is the vine. This image means that his life and energy flows into me.
Jesus speaks of the need for us to stay rooted in him. “Cut off from me you can do nothing.” Jesus is telling us that the very core of our existence is to be connected with him. He invites me to remain in him.
I spoke earlier of the need for discernment in pruning. What if that is not there? What if I am as chaotic in my spiritual life as I am in my pruning of trees?
The fruits of our Christian life are the work of God. Each of us can see the life and work of God in others – in ministry, in love, in commitment, courage, endurance, and ordinary daily kindness and compassion.
Each of us, too, is gifted in some unique way. We can bear fruit for God in a way nobody else can. Prayer helps us recognise the fruits, develop them and offer them in the service of God and God’s people.
Through the analogy of the vine and the branches, Jesus invites us to be united to Him. We are the branches, and if we allow the life of the vine free reign in us, it will bear much fruit of patience, kindness, compassion and forgiveness.
Let me end with these wise words from Pope Francis. “A beautiful question for us Christians is this: do I abide in Jesus or am I far from Jesus? Am I united to the vine that gives me life or am I a dead branch, that is incapable of bearing fruit, giving witness?”