‘I am the vine you are the branches’ is a scripture phrase
we are all very familiar with. It is a wonderful and most
beautiful biblical image.
But actually the words we have in the text today are: ‘I am the true vine.’ Or as some scholars also translate it: ‘I am the real vine.’ What does this mean? Are we to assume that there is a false vine somewhere that we should avoid getting entangled with?
Or is Jesus emphasising that he is the source of real life; life in all its fullness and that what we have here on earth is only a pale shadow? The contrast here being between what is heavenly and what is earthly.
To help understand this we could look to a similar phrase elsewhere in John’s Gospel: ‘It was not Moses who gave you bread from heaven, it is my Father who gives you the bread from heaven, the true bread… I am the bread of life…’
We then could think that John is trying to stress the dichotomy or split between the Old and New Testaments. Here perhaps John could be thought to be emphasising the contrast between Jesus and his followers as the true vine with the false vine represented by the Jewish synagogue of his day.
Whatever is meant we should understand that this image of the vine was frequently used in the Old Testament as a description of the relationship between God and his people. There were elaborate carvings of the vine and the branches in the Temple and this image was also frequently used on the coinage to represent the people of Israel.
So it is a particularly rich image that St. John is drawing on; one that was in frequent use and easily understood by the people of what was essentially an agricultural nation.
We don’t tend to think of Israel today as one of the great wine areas of the world. But there were vines there in plenty in ancient times. In those much harder days perhaps it was not so much the quality as the alcoholic content of the wine that was important since at that time no one could be sure that the water from the well was pure.
The point is that we are dealing with a readily understood image. And it is a lasting image; although Britain is not a wine producing country we are well aware of vines, if only because of the vast range of wine available in the local supermarket!
Or it could be all those gardening programmes. I remember listening to Gardener’s Question Time once—I know nothing about gardens but when Gardener’s Question Time is on the car radio I listen anyway hoping I might learn something.
Anyway, one question that the expert gardeners were asked was about pruning fruit trees. I was very interested to note that they emphasised what a great quantity of dead wood one could get out of an apparently quite healthy tree. And also how important pruning was to promote growth and enable the tree to give a plentiful crop of good fruit.
Pruning has to be done each year if the tree is to remain in good shape. But also it was quite surprising how a neglected tree could soon burst back into blossom with a bit of rigorous pruning.
You don’t need me to point out the implications for the spiritual life, it’s all fairly obvious. To stay spiritually healthy a bit of pruning is necessary on a regular basis. But even if there has been long term neglect not all is lost and you can make an amazing comeback.
That’s all fair enough as far as it goes, but what about this spiritual fruit; what does it consist of?
We are more comfortable with success as the object of our achievements, but what about fruitfulness; bearing fruit, spiritual fruit. What do we mean by this?
The first thing we have to say with this rather biological metaphor is that we are talking about growth, organic growth. Growth requires movement and change. As Cardinal Newman said so wisely: ‘To live is to change and to be perfect means to have changed often.’ In fact change is the only sign of life.
And change is difficult. But change is what we are about. Change is of the very essence of Christianity. Take the change out of Christianity and it is dead in the water. The whole aim and purpose of the Church is to bring about conversion, radical change.
But this is the very opposite of how the ordinary person, and indeed many of us, perceive the Church. It is generally thought of as a rigid, static organisation anchored to the past. And indeed there are important and vital aspects of Christianity that are anchored in the past; the teaching of Jesus Christ to start with, which is at the very heart of what the Church is about.
Abandon this and we might as well pack up now. And the Church is rigid in holding on to these teachings and unlike other denominations the Roman Catholic Church will not water-down these teachings no matter how unattractive or unfashionable they may be perceived.
But this teaching of Jesus is a call to change; it is a call to conversion. This is why the Church is called: ever the same, ever new.
We hold on firmly to the teaching of Jesus and we resist any watering-down but we are open to change especially within ourselves. We are open to the promptings of the Spirit. As we have progressed through our lives we have acquired a special sensitivity to God’s way of working and we see his hand in all things. We allow him to nudge us forwards; we deepen our faith; and we continually find new ways to model our lives on Jesus.
The life of the Christian therefore can never be merely passive, just as love can never be passive. If we are truly in love with someone then we are always on the lookout for things we can do to please the other. We try to help them; we look for opportunities to demonstrate our love; we try to change the things in us that cause them irritation.
It is exactly the same for the Christian who loves God. This constant striving to please him, this openness to change in our lives is a concrete sign of our love. This is active Christianity. This is a faith that is truly dynamic and living.
Prayer brings about change in our lives; maybe it is only very slow and gradual, but it does change us. It does move us forwards; it does gradually draw us ever closer to God, the source and summit of all life and love. This is spiritual fruitfulness; a coming to the fulfilment of all that we were made for. This is the wonderful ripeness of a life lived in faith.
Digest of Articles from Catholics Blogs and Websites
May 3, 2015
Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B—May 3, 2015
On the eve of His death, knowing that He was about to depart from His friends, Jesus said to them: “Remain in Me, as I remain in you.” How would that be possible?
Gospel (Read Jn 15:1-8)
Our reading today comes from a section of St. John’s Gospel that is often called “the Last Supper discourse.” After He washed the disciples’ feet, Jesus spoke at length with them in a most serious manner. This was straight talk; no more parables. We should be keenly interested in every word He had to say.
Fifth Sunday of Easter: Being Fruitful Branches…Living the Mass
This Sunday’s Gospel, the Vine and the Branches, reminds us why we are here right now. We are Christians. We are Catholics. This is more than membership in a society. It is even more than membership in a family. We are united to Jesus Christ as branches are united to a vine. His Life flows into us. We come to Mass to be nourished with His Life through Word and Eucharist.
Joy is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, not a special gift given to a select few; it is simply a by-product of living in God. However, when people think of a Catholic saint, the first image that comes to mind is a sad, pale, thin figure, often tortured and in pain, or looking as if he was wearing a hair shirt. Traditional Catholic art has reinforced this impression. Recently I was looking for images of smiling or laughing monks. Hundreds of images popped up featuring Buddhist monks laughing, but I had trouble finding a handful of photos or paintings of joyful Catholic monks and priests. This is a quandary since Sacred Scriptures exhorts the people of God to trust and embrace joy.
Nehemiah 8:10 Do not be grieved (sad, sorrowful), for the joy of the LORD is your strength.
Fearful Yet Overjoyed
It’s a curious thing that a father does. The same child that he protects and cradles, he takes in his hands and throws into the air. . .up above his head. . .lets him fall back. . .and then catches again. And again throws him. . .lets him fall. . .and catches him. It seems odd to do to a child. But watch. The child laughs and even shrieks with delight. He screams in mid-flight and giggles when caught.
Take Those You Love to Jesus
Does the Bible still have relevance? All that guidance and those stories of 2,000 years ago and longer – do they mean anything today?
They should, of course – especially the things Jesus taught. Loving God with every fiber of your being, loving your neighbor as you love yourself, forgiving countless times. Laying down your life for your friends. Having hope when all seems hopeless. Those messages instruct us about how to love the right way in relation to God.
Journeying from Regret to Joy
I knew one of my parishioners as a quiet devout lady who attended Holy Mass every morning. All I remember about her was greeting her and saying goodbye to her every day after Mass. After she suddenly passed away, her daughter told me things that I never would have guessed about her mother. Every single day of her life, the deceased rose around 2 am to spend hours in prayer. I was really edified. Then the daughter showed me her mother’s prayer book, and behold, I found my name along with the names of many other people written in her prayer book. She was praying and sacrificing herself for me all these while and I never recognized her, I never knew what moved her, I never spent time with her, I never had a chance to chat with her, I never expressed my gratitude to her. Talk about a sense of regret that came over me.
The Concept, Origin and Sacramental Nature of Marriage
Marriage is a principle and guiding theme throughout the Holy Scriptures. It is the symbol and sign of God’s sacred covenant with His people. The Creation and institution of marriage appears woven throughout the Bible, first at the beginning of Genesis and last in the book of Revelation 19:9, where it says “blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” Christ is the bridegroom and Holy Mother Church is the bride. Christ elevated marriage to a sacrament by the Gospel message and all are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb if they come appropriately attired. Proceeding from these truths is the fact that we must abide in and bind ourselves to the conditions and guiding principles concerning the nature of marriage revealed to us by God and confirmed by natural reason.
Sharing in the Life of the Trinity
In many places throughout the world, Christians observe Pentecost as a celebration of God as the Trinity — three divine persons living eternally in perfect unity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Trinity is the mystery at the heart of Christianity.
Christ Understands Every Grief
Today I met a 14 year old boy who was paralyzed in a freak accident last summer. He is quadriplegic. It’s not yet been a year since his accident. I’m not sure if the reality of severe, permanent disability has been fully internalized for him or his parents. It is a hard grief journey that will utterly break their hearts.