June 19, 2018, 2:18 pm
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The vine and the branches

JESUS said to his disciples: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Remain in me, as I remain in you. 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.

“I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

***

Our convent here in Fresno is bordered by a neighbor’s vineyard. I consider myself lucky that I have a chance to contemplate daily a well-tended vineyard, with pruned branches sprouting new leaves and; eventually, abundant fruit hanging from the vine. Indeed, seeing thick bunches of luscious grapes clinging firmly to the vine helps me to understand better the allegory that the evangelist John presents in this Sunday’s Gospel reading (Jn 15:1-8): Jesus is the vine, the disciples the branches.

The symbol of the -vine and vineyard is well known to the Jews. Several Old Testament passages see Israel both as God’s vine (cf. Ps 80:9-17) the object of his loving care, and as the vineyard of God (cf. Is 5:1-7). The evangelist John, in presenting Jesus as the “true vine,” gives the image of Christ superseding the Old Testament reality. Indeed, by identifying himself with the true vine, Jesus proclaims that the true Israel is in him and only those united with him can form a part of it. Old Testament traditions speak of pruning fruitless vines (cf. Jer 5:10; Ez 17:7). John’s reference to the unfortunate destiny of the unfruitful vines (cf. Jn 15:2) may have been a warning to “fallen” Christians who attempt to hide their faith under persecution.

The main interest, however, of the allegory of the vine and the, branches presented in John’s Gospel is to underline the necessity of the close union between the Lord and his disciples. When Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches” (Jn 15:5), he declares his intimate oneness and personal relationship with his disciples. The disciples need to be integrated with him who is the source of life and living principle of unity for the entire organism. Since Christ is the source of life, the disciples cannot bear fruit unless they remain organically united with him.

God prunes the fruitful ones so that they can become even more fruitful. The painful process of pruning the vines is necessary: in the same way that Jesus, the “true vine,” has been “pruned” in the process of passion and death that led to his glorification; so must the disciples of Jesus, as vibrant branches remaining in the “true vine,” undergo the cleansing power of the “living Word” and the pruning process of the cross.

Today’s first reading illustrates what it means to “remain in the vine” and to be “fruitfuI branches of the vine.” Paul, the mystic and apostle to the Gentiles who suffered terrible trials and persecutions on account of his faith, is a powerful example of a disciple who remains deeply united to Jesus Christ, the living vine, and who bears abundant fruit. The vibrant community of disciples in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, who were walking in the fear of the Lord and being consoled by the Holy Spirit, is another illustration of the fruitfulness of branches attached to the true vine.

***

– Sr. Mary Margaret Tapang, PDDM
– (Aptil 29, 2018)
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