Jesus is so cool in the images he uses to communicate.
In the gospel passage today (John 15:1-8), Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” (You can read the entire passage below.)
Our Scripture scholar-friend William Barclay tells us that Jesus often uses images that are familiar to the people of his day that are part of their religious heritage. Time and time again, Israel is pictured as the vine or the vineyard of God. “The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel” Isaiah 5:1-7). “Yet I planted you a choice vine,” says Jeremiah to Israel (Jeremiah 2:21). Ezekiel, in turn, likens Israel to a vine in Chapter 15 and in 19:10. “Israel is a luxuriant vine: said Hosea in 10:1. “Thou didst bring a vine out of Egypt,” they sang in Psalm 80 as they remembered their deliverance from Egypt.
One of the glories of the temple was the great golden vine in front of the Holy Place. It was considered a great honor if you were rich enough to give gold to mould a new bunch of grapes or even a single grape to that vine.
Then Barclay gives us a bit of interesting exegesis. Jesus calls himself the true vine. The point of that word alethinos, true, real, genuine is this, he says: “It is a curious fact that the symbol of the vine is never used in the Old Testament apart from the idea of degeneration. The point of Isaiah’s picture is that vineyard has run wild. Jeremiah complains that the nation has turned into ‘degenerate and become a wild vine.’ It is as if Jesus said: ‘You think that because you belong to the nation of Israel that you are a branch of the true vine of God. But the nation it is; a degenerate vine, as the prophets saw. It is I that am the true vine.” (Barclay / The Gospel of John, Volume 2, p. 173)
Now here are my own thoughts on today’s gospel.
Take a look at the image above. Every part of the vine, every grape, receives its life by being connected to the source of its life.
So, too, with us. I have some readers who are not professed Christians. But if you think about it, the message is the same: If we stay connected to the Source of life, whatever that is for you, then our lives will flourish and bear fruit.
But some of us are like withered branches. We have cut ourselves off from the source of life and we do not bring fruitfulness into our lives.
The following commentary I excerpted from the Magnificat liturgical magazine . . . .
He [Jesus’ Father] takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit,
and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. (15:2)
In pruning, the vines were cut back so severely that they gave the appearance of lifeless stalks. When have you felt like that in your life? Did God ever generate new life from what seemed lifeless?
St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that if we are bent on “diverse and trifling things,” our power is weakened and rendered less effective in doing good. And thus, God, to make us productive to do good often sends us trials and temptations, which if we overcome, we become stronger in doing good.
You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. (15:3)
Think of how you were changed and made better by a word someone spoke to you: a word of forgiveness, of correction, of insight, of encouragement, of love
Here’s Aquinas again: “The Word of God by its power moves our hearts, weighed down by earthly things, and sets them on fire.
Another medieval Scholar, Cornelius a Lapide, says: “Christ pruned the Apostles of their ignorance, a certain vain confidence, an over-reliance on sensible (physical) presence of Christ, and from faint-heartedness, which made them almost despair of their own salvation now that Christ was departing.”
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. (15:4)
Of all the things our Lord could ask the night before he dies, he commands only this, “Remain in me”—the simplest thing of all.
~ Magnificat liturgical magazine / April 2018 ~ pp. 411-2
Take a few moments to consider the fruitfulness of your relationships. Are the people in your life growing because they know you and are in your life? Or are they withering up?
Stay connected. Stay connected with your family, your friends, the people you love and the people who love and care about you.
We want to be connected to the Internet, on Facebook and Twitter, Instagram and other social media. But those connections are most often superficial.
What about connections of the heart? The ones that really matter.
What about your connection with the earth and the environment and with the creatures who share this world with you? Or does the world revolve only around you?
What about your connection with God and his desire that the whole church, indeed the whole world be connected in love.
Now here’s my prayer . . . .
Jesus, you use simple images to help us understand
what life for us can be like when we stay connected to You.
Wonderful life-surging energy flows through You as the Vine.
Let that same life-surging energy which is Your Holy Spirit
surge through us as well
and renew the face of the earth!
To You be glory now and forever!
CHRIST IS RISEN!
Now here;s the entire text of today’s Gospel . . . .
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 everyone 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.” (John 15:1-8)
And now, before you go, here’s a song for your reflection on your relationship with Jesus. Click here.
And here are all of today’s Mass readings. Click here.
William Barclay / The Daily Study Bible Series / the Gospel of John – Volume 2 Revised Edition / Westminster Press Philadelphia 1975 p. 173.