“I am the Vine, you are the branches”
It is the Fifth Sunday of Easter. The word of God today turns our attention to a number of important things to help us grow in our relationship with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ. In the First Reading (Acts 9: 26-31), we encounter Saul, whose life epitomises God’s power to transform us into whatever He wants us to be. In the Second Reading (1 John 3: 18-24), the beloved apostle passionately reminds us that love, be it of God or of neighbours, must be matched with actions. Indeed true love expresses itself through sacrifices and the willingness to please the beloved in more ways than mere words.
In the Gospel (John 15: 1-8), John the Evangelist presents another of the “I am” sayings of Jesus, where He introduces Himself: I am the True Vine. The image of Jesus as True Vine takes our minds back to the Old Testament presentation of the relationship of God with Israel. In those days, Israel was seen as God’s vine. In Psalm 80, we read: You brought a vine out of Egypt, to plant it You drove out the nations. You cleared the ground for it; it took root and filled the land. In the prophecy of Ezekiel Chapters 15, 17 and 19 Israel is spoken of as a vine; same as in Jeremiah. In Hosea 10: 1, Israel is referred to as “a luxuriant vine.” However, this vine, Israel, did not live out to fulfill its intended purpose or did not produce the right fruits. And so in Isaiah 5: 1-7, we read about Israel as the The vineyard of the Lord of hosts that was planted with the choicest vines in a fertile soil, with a watchtower in the middle and a winepress hewed so that it could bear the best of fruits but instead yielded only wild grapes. It is within this context that Jesus identifies Himself as The True Vine. Thus revealing to us that He is The True Israel, The True Chosen One of God, The True Son of God, Who will do what the people of Israel could not do by producing the expected fruits in obedience to the Father.
Jesus uses the image of the vine and the branches to present our relationship with Him. This is a very encouraging and challenging picture. It is encouraging because it offers a dependable assurance that we are intrinsically united with our Risen Lord. The vine is the source of life for the branches; it nourishes and sustains the branches. Similarly, we draw life from Jesus, Who came so that we may have life, life in its fullness. Authentic life can only come through an intimate relationship with Jesus. In the words of Archbishop Robert Barron of Archdiocese of Los Angeles, a renowned evangelist of Word on Fire ministry: “Jesus is a force in which we participate; the body which we are cells and molecules, a river in which we swim.” The challenge here is that of maintaining that relationship with Jesus so that we are constantly alive in Him. Our oneness with Christ is not that of an arbitrary choice. It a fundamental option that we must make if we are to be fully alive.
This image of the vine and the branch invites us to a life of absolute dependence. It implies that we cannot be truly productive if we severe that relationship with Him; that we cannot live any meaningful life here on earth if we are apart from Him and that we cannot have eternal life if we are not intimately united with Him. The True Vine. Man cannot just afford to be independent of God and His Son. As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, but must remain part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in Me … for cut off from Me you can do nothing (John 15: 5).
Dear friends, it is important to note that even the branch that abides with the vine and bears fruits is pruned “to bear much fruits.” The pruning of the vines, which is done during the winter dormancy (December/January), helps to ensure that the fruits are of good quality. Relating this to our context, the pruning can be understood as corrections, sufferings, tests and different vicissitudes of life that we have to go through as Christians. Certainly, our union with Christ does not exclude us from these pruning. The Letter to the Hebrews (12: 4-11) reminds us that God corrects the child He loves … You must endure your trials as discipline … For what son is not corrected by his father? … Indeed no correction is pleasant at the time, but painful, yet later it brings to those who have been trained by it the peaceful reward of an upright life. Similarly, the apostle Peter exhorts us: My dear friends do not be surprised that you are being tested by fire. It is not an unusual occurrence. Instead you should be glad to share in the sufferings of Christ … (1 Peter 4: 12-13). These corrections and tests are intended to bring out the best in us as the pruning of the vine brings out much and best fruits; to toughen us in spirit and make us mature in faith. There is need for us to apply the pruning process to our lives as well. Perhaps we should ask:
What habits do we need to prune off so we can grow and bear more good fruits?
What do we need to detach from so we can be attached to the vine?
What do we need to die to so that we can resurrect in newness of life?
Lord, we pray that You grant us the grace to adopt the attitude of “holy indifference” to the things of this world so that we can cling to the True Vine, our Risen Lord, Who is the Source of our being.