“I am the vine, you are the branches”
by Fr Michael Scott SDB
Not so many years ago two tablets dating back to 2800BC were uncovered in Babylon. Both commented on the trends of the day. On the 1st were the words: “Things are not what they used to be.” On the 2nd: “The world must be coming to an end. Children no longer obey their parents and every man wants to write a book.”
Well, one Man that never wrote a book was Jesus not did He build a ‘Trump Tower’ to His name. He did something much greater. He formed a Community of living people, He founded a Church… that was His monument. And the image He used when speaking of the Church was the vine. An image of profound and intimate union.
In Spring time the branches of the vine are full of life in the form of leaves and flowers. In autumn those same branches are laden with grapes. They have this life and produce these fruits because they are connected to the vine. Separated from the vine they produce nothing, but quickly wither and die.
As the branches need the vine so do we need Christ. Jesus says ‘As the branch cannot bear fruit all by itself but must remain part of the Vine neither can you unless you remain in Me. Cut off from Me you can do nothing. He provides the sap, the energy, the grace.
A missionary in Africa records the following experience. With a small generator, he provided light for his chapel and his little house. One day a group of natives came to visit him. They were fascinated by this strange light hanging from the ceiling. On leaving, one of them asked for one of these strange lamps. Father gave him a bulb to keep him happy. Months later when Father went to visit that man in his far-off village to his surprise and amusement he saw his light bulb hanging from the man’s ceiling tied up with a piece of string! It gave no light because it was not connected to a source of power.
Separated from Christ we are like that bulb, tide up with string. We can never give or be light. We must have a source… That source, that fount of energy is Christ… to Him we must be connected if not we are simply lost. ‘Anyone who does not remain in Me is like a branch that has been thrown away – it withers!’ Be therefore connected!
Scripture readings: Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com
Reflections and Prayers by Fr Jack Finnegan SDB
1st Reading – Acts 9:26-31
When Saul got to Jerusalem he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him: they could not believe he was really a disciple. Barnabas, however, took charge of him, introduced him to the apostles, and explained how the Lord had appeared to Saul and spoken to him on his journey, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. Saul now started to go round with them in Jerusalem, preaching fearlessly in the name of the Lord. But after he had spoken to the Hellenists, and argued with them, they became determined to kill him. When the brothers knew, they took him to Caesarea, and sent him off from there to Tarsus.
The churches throughout Judaea, Galilee and Samaria were now left in peace, building themselves up, living in the fear of the Lord, and filled with the consolation of the Holy Spirit.
Today’s reading offers us Luke’s account of Paul’s first visit to the apostles in Jerusalem, a version somewhat different to Paul’s own brief account in Galatians 1:18-19. For Luke, Paul is a model for the Church in his own day, remaining in fellowship with the apostles—walking arm in arm with them, as the text calls it. The challenge for the faith community is to remain committed to the apostolic teaching, preaching the Easter gospel far and wide. Unity in the faith community is the key. Then God’s growth will come.
Lord Jesus, help all Christians to walk arm in arm with the apostles, as Paul did, loyal to their teaching about you, loyal to the way they lived and their love for you. Thank you for coming among us. Thank you for dying and rising that we might live with God forever. Through St Paul’s wise intercession help us to witness to your love and beauty in the world today. Help us to witness to the Father’s glorious vision for the cosmos. Help us like St Paul to live lives of true integrity and solidarity. Renew us in your Spirit as you lovingly renewed him on the road to Damascus. Alleluia! Amen.
Psalm – Psalm 21(22):26-28,30-32
Psalm 22 is the perfect Easter psalm: verses 1-21 are about the suffering and humiliation of God’s blameless servant, and verses 22-31 celebrate his vindication. All of creation will turn to him and bow before him. The psalm reminds us that vindication follows Christ’s suffering, that his resurrection follows the horror of the cross. The challenge is to keep both realities together, not split them apart to suit our own self-conscious purposes. Be one with Christ!
LORD, Adonai, today we praise you in the assembly of the faithful! May you be glorified by all forever! May the lowly eat their fill of your good gifts! May families bow down before you! May our souls live to you alone now and at the hour of our death! May the coming generations proclaim the justice you show in the resurrection of your faithful Servant, Jesus Christ. And may we all be one in him. Alleluia! Amen.
2nd Reading – 1 John 3:18-24
our love is not to be just words or mere talk,
but something real and active;
only by this can we be certain
that we are children of the truth
and be able to quieten our conscience in his presence,
whatever accusations it may raise against us,
because God is greater than our conscience and he knows everything.
My dear people,
if we cannot be condemned by our own conscience,
we need not be afraid in God’s presence,
and whatever we ask him,
we shall receive,
because we keep his commandments
and live the kind of life that he wants.
His commandments are these:
that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ
and that we love one another
as he told us to.
Whoever keeps his commandments
lives in God and God lives in him.
We know that he lives in us
by the Spirit that he has given us.
Look at what is held together in this reading, like cross and resurrection: faith and works go hand in hand, belief and obedience go hand in hand, prayer of union with God and love of one another go hand in hand. Living the oneness of all of them is the great sign of our union with God-in-Christ. God is the potter and we are invited to be the clay in God’s creative hands. May God’s awe-inspiring and transfiguring grace be at work in our lives!
Lord Jesus, you know all our needs, especially our need of you and of your peace. May we remain in you, ever at peace with you and all of creation! May your peaceful presence work deeply in us to show us our oneness with the Father! May the Spirit guide us in the sacred way, the way to life, the way to justice, the way to peace, the way to glory with you! Father, transfigure us in Jesus. Alleluia! Amen.
Gospel Reading – John 15:1-8
Jesus said to his disciples:
‘I am the true vine,
and my Father is the vinedresser.
Every branch in me that bears no fruit
he cuts away,
and every branch that does bear fruit
he prunes to make it bear even more.
You are pruned already,
by means of the word that I have spoken to you.
Make your home in me, as I make mine in you.
As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself,
but must remain part of the vine,
neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine,
you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me, with me in him,
bears fruit in plenty;
for cut off from me you can do nothing.
Anyone who does not remain in me
is like a branch that has been thrown away – he withers;
these branches are collected and thrown on the fire,
and they are burnt.
If you remain in me
and my words remain in you,
you may ask what you will
and you shall get it.
It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit,
and then you will be my disciples.’
Remain in me, as I remain in you. These words represent the deep heart’s core of Christian spirituality. The challenge is to make room in our lives for the divine indwelling. To make room for the real presence of Christ in the world. The vine is Christ. He is our root. The Father is the vinedresser. We, as disciples, are the branches: and we are meant to allow the Christ-life in us, the resurrection life, the life of the Spirit, to produce good fruit. And who are the branches that are cut away? Those who knowingly refuse to bear fruit in the world. Those who knowingly betray the Trinity. Do you see the implications for Eucharist? Do you see the implications for lives characterised by justice and loving-kindness?
Lord Jesus, you are the vine, we are the branches. May the Father prune our dead wood that we might live to you alone, be rooted in you alone, for in you we live and move and have our being! In you and through you we grow. Rooted in you we bring the fruit of your loving word, the fruit of your justice and mercy, to the world around us. We show the ways of resurrection life. May your Spirit teach us what to say and inspire us to act as your disciples, respectful to all living beings and to all of creation! Alleluia! Amen.
Word of God and Salesian Life by Fr Juan José Bartolomé SDB
Jesus uses the traditional image of the vineyard to develop one of the favourite themes of John’s gospel, that of the vine and how to care for it. He is speaking to his disciples on the night he was betrayed. His words have an obvious dramatic effect, and real significance for our understanding of Church. Being rooted in Jesus is the key to fidelity for a community of disciples that are about to lose his physical presence. Remaining in him frees them from the anxiety brought about by his disappearance. Nobody will lose him except those who want to lose him. Making their home in him is the way to have him and not be lost. Like the branch of the vine, the life of the community is guaranteed, as long as it remains anchored in Jesus. This ‘remaining in Jesus’ can be tested – by the fruit it bears. A love that bears no fruit and a faith that is not exercised need to be pruned. Love that does not bear fruit is destined to be burnt, like useless foliage. But the disciple who does good deeds bears fruit and remains rooted in Jesus, and his desires will be brought to fruition. Whatever he asks of God will be granted. Christ will not leave unanswered the desires of one who does his will. This is the life-giving power of Christ the true vine.
Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
The discourse of Jesus on the true vine (Jn 15,1-2) opens abruptly, without introduction (Jn 14,31). It is not, strictly speaking, either a parable or an allegory. It uses the Old Testament image of the vineyard, and some Eucharistic references from early Christian writings (Did 9, 2). The vine is part of the vegetation of the land of Canaan (Num 13, 23; 1 Kings 5,5). As a symbol (Ho 10,1; Is 5,1-6; Jer 2,21; Ps 80,9-16; Ezk 15,1-8) it served to illustrate God’s covenant, the infidelity of the people and their punishment. In the Old Testament the vine or vineyard was never used as an image of the Messiah. It referred always to the people of God.
Its use in John to refer to Jesus is therefore unusual and daring. The image needs to be interpreted and Jesus does so immediately. He himself is the vine. The vinedresser, the one who is responsible for its maintenance, is the Father (Jn15, 1). Jesus is the only vine that did not disappoint the owner, who is the Father. The vine gives life, but it is the property of the Father. All the attention and work come from the Father. Jesus is authentic because he corresponds exactly to the designs of the Father and fulfils perfectly the Father’s expectations. Jesus renders that fidelity to the Father possible, for anyone who lives in him and draws life from him, in the same way as the branch draws life from the vine. It is from this personal fidelity that Jesus is able to give life to the disciples who are the branches. As the vinedresser, God himself cultivates his property. In winter he cuts and tears away the unproductive stems. In spring he prunes and cleans the surplus branches (Jn 15, 2). The purpose of this pruning by the vinedresser is for the branches to bear fruit. In the life of the disciple, painful pruning and fruitful production go hand in hand. God prunes in order to improve the fruitfulness of those who are grafted on to Christ.
When they are pruned, the disciples are already clean and purified (Jn 15, 3), thanks to the word of Jesus which has separated them from the world and rooted them in God. First it was the Father who pruned. Now it is Jesus who cleans. (Jn 13, 10). His word is the principle of separation, of purification and of fruitfulness. Purification is a gift, totally unmerited. From here arises the need for mutual indwelling (Jn 15, 4. 5). It is not enough to be with him, and to be purified by his word. It is necessary to remain with him in order to bear fruit. A bit of imagination helps to clarify the meaning of this: it has never happened that a branch cut off from the vine was productive. So the disciple must remain with Jesus if he is to be productive. Union and fruitfulness are inseparable. The fruitfulness of the disciple depends on his fidelity to Christ. Separated from Christ, the disciple withers.
By repeating the formula of revelation, “I am the vine” (Jn 15, 5) Jesus introduces a new dimension of the theme of indwelling: the relationship between Jesus and the disciples is an intimate one, “You are the branches.” The Christian’s ability to bear fruit depends on his being rooted in Christ. Without him, he can do nothing (Jn 15, 5; 1,3). Separation from Christ leads not only to barrenness but to ruin. If the branch does not bear fruit it will wither and be burnt. The process is irreversible. It is described quickly and effectively. Not to remain in Jesus leads inevitably to perdition (Jn 15, 6).
We remain in him only if his word remains in us, and this ensures that we will be heard when we pray (Jn 15, 7; 14,10.13). Keeping his word guarantees union of life and of will between Jesus and the believer. Anyone who follows Jesus’ word, knows that his desires are heard by God. Obedience to Christ ensures that the Father listens to us. Christian living means remaining in Christ so that we can bear fruit and do the work of Christ, which is to the glory of the Father.
Meditate: apply what the text says to life
It comes as no surprise to us to hear Jesus being described as to the true vine. We are so used to the words that they no longer make much impression on us. And yet, the image is quite unusual. None of us would have dared to call Jesus a vine, much less the true vine! Why did Jesus do so? What did he mean by that image?
His first listeners probably did not have the same difficulty that we have. They knew very well that the image of the vine had been used repeatedly in scripture to refer to the people of God. Israel was spoken of sometimes as the vine, sometimes as the vineyard, the property of God. They were the people cared for by God, the object of his attention, the place where he laboured. The people of Israel knew that God loved them, and cared for them, as a good vinedresser cares for his favourite vineyard. He spoiled them! But the disciples must have been surprised that Jesus adapted that image and applied it to his own person: “I am the true vine and my Father is the vinedresser.” The care and preoccupation of the Father for Jesus are similar to the worries and hopes that a man has for his property, and the anxiety and effort that it costs him. God is completely committed to Jesus, as the owner is to his vineyard. Therefore, is we wish to share in the Father’s care and attention, we must remain in Christ, the vine whom the Father cares for. Belonging to a particular people, however holy that people may be, does not make us the object of the Father’s attention. Only if we remain in Jesus, the Son of God, do we share in the attention the Father lavishes on him. If our lives are rooted in Jesus, as the branch is rooted in the vine, then, and only then, are we assured of the personal, solicitous, fatherly care and attention of God. We need to overcome our scepticism and stop doubting God’s love and care for us and our families, for our little world, and the world at large. We need to ask ourselves why is it, and when is it, that we do not feel cared for by God. The fault surely does not lie with God, as Jesus demonstrated very clearly to his disciples.
- “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.” If we wish to feel the powerful hand of God, the warmth of his presence, and the consolation of his company, we must opt for Christ and become attached to him as the branch is to the vine. Too often nowadays, we Christians pay attention to Jesus on Sundays and holydays, and on the other days, the days that really matter, we follow other voices and other masters. We spend our days looking for things that have nothing to do with Christ. We put our trust in other people or other ideas. We have plans or dreams that are beyond our reach. We think that if we find the right job, or if we win the lottery, all our problems will be solved. We try to secure our future without Christ, or with a half-hearted commitment to Christ, but we are not serious about searching for him. We plan our lives without paying heed to what he asks of us. We may want to bear fruit but if we put our roots anywhere other than in Jesus, we will not feel loved by God. We are condemned to live our lives, deprived of his loving care and attention.
If, on the other hand, we make Jesus Christ the whole reason of our being, the aim of all our projects, the root of our hopes and the place where our hopes flourish, then we will feel loved by God. We will experience him as our Father and friend, as he was for Jesus. It is not difficult to feel loved by God. All it requires is that we live united to Jesus, in his life and his death, in his works and his thoughts, cost what it may – and it certainly does cost! It costs more than we are ready to give. But if we are not prepared to pay the price, we stand to lose something far greater, which is the love and attention of God.
- “Every branch in me that bears no fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes that it may bear more fruit.” God is good, but that does not mean that we can expect only good things from him. The vinedresser cares for the vine by pruning it and makes it stronger by cutting away the useless parts that bear no fruit. That is how God acts towards us. Like the vinedresser who tends the vine, God does not care for us, just in the hope that we will bear good fruit, but in the hope that, as a result of his work, we will bear better fruit than what we already bear. As a Father, he loves his children, not because we are already good, but because he wants us to be better. We should not be surprised if God’s action in our lives disturbs us or goes against our wishes. The vine has to be pruned and without God’s pruning action we will not feel really loved and cared for. Feeling at ease with someone is not the same thing as feeling loved. A love that makes no demands is a cheap love that has no consequences. Love of that kind is easily given and easily withheld. This is not the kind of love God has for those whom he loves, because they are rooted in his beloved son and attached to Jesus Christ.
We have to ask ourselves, then, if we are ready to suffer God’s attention, if we want God to care for us and if we are ready to pay the price for his love. It may happen that we complain of not having something, when the truth is we are not prepared to give anything in exchange. When we know that God is caring for us, we do not live in daily fear of evil or misfortune. Knowing that we are in God’s hands and in his heart does not guarantee that there will be no tragedy or error in our lives. We should not expect to be privileged people just because we are believers. We know, without any doubt, that God will not abandon us, and that he cares about us. We feel his hand upon us. Instead of spending our time asking God to treat us better, we should be happy to accept whatever God wants to happen to us. Does the vine protest when it is pruned to make it more fruitful? Does the son doubt his father’s love if the father expects more of him because he loves him? What is even more important – we should not forget what Jesus says, that the vine which has not been pruned and cleaned, withers and is destined to be burnt. We cannot rebel against God’s will. If we want to be regarded as sons, we must accept the Father’s authority over us. If we reject God’s discipline in our lives, we will be deprived of his care and attention. And if this happens to us, we do not know what we are missing. Anyone who remains in Christ enjoys the Father’s loving care and receives whatever he asks for. If we allow ourselves to be cared for by God, we will produce the fruits that he wants of us. God will see to it that even the smallest desires of our hearts will bear fruit. We could not expect more from a God who loves us as much as our God loves his children. This is how God, the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, loves those who remain in his Son and make him their source of life. The reward of the disciple who remains in the Son is to be heard by the Father.