A Reflection by Fr. Peter for 5th Sunday of Easter (Year B).
Acts 9:26-31 – 1John 3:18-24 – John 15:1-8.
Today’s Gospel presents us with the paroimia of the vine in which Jesus reveals and tells us more about His identity as the true vine. There are seven ‘I AM’ sayings of Jesus (“I AM” being the Name of God [Ex 3:14]), and seven ‘I AM the…” sayings of Jesus, of which ‘I AM the vine’ is the final one.
The ancient community of Israel was represented as a vine (Ezek 19:10). The vast doorposts and lintel of the Jerusalem Temple featured a vine. The Old Testament speaks of Israel as God’s vine and vineyard (Ps 80:8ff), sometimes producing bad fruit (Is 5:1ff; Jer 2:21), and of the consequences of turning away from God (Ezek 17:5ff). Jesus spoke of Himself as the Temple presence of God (Jn 2:21). Putting all that together, we deduce from today’s Gospel that Jesus is the true vine in the divine presence of God.
Jesus articulates for us His relationship between His Father and us through the image of viticulture. Jesus is the vine, the Father is the vinedresser (the georgos), and we are the branches (klemata). He is faithful to the Father, so we should be faithful to Him by “remaining in Him” (see below). Remaining in Him is necessary to enable us to have life, to thrive and be fruitful. If you have ever cut off a branch from a tree or shrub, you will have witnessed its leaves withering astonishingly fast. Jesus urges His followers to wake up and realize that they are branches of one true vine, whether naturally from the root or grafted-in.
The goal of attachment to the true vine is the bearing of fruit. The Father prunes us, not to wound us but to bear more and more fruit, and that pruning goes ahead at the word of Jesus. Those of us who do bear fruit are pruned of surplus tendrils and buds to produce good fruit (Gal 5:22f), and those of us who do not bear fruit are pruned hard back or even cut off. Fruitfulness is the direct result of abiding in Jesus (Jn 15:7), and the Father is glorified by our bearing fruit as Jesus’ followers.
What is meant by being “fruitful”? In the Old Testament, being fruitful means being obedient to God, being righteous and being just. By extension, Christians are fruitful when they both love God and obey Him. To do that, we have to worship Him, read and understand His word, and listen to Him in prayer. Once we show our commitment to living in discipleship with Jesus by undertaking these three practices regularly, then we are grafted into the vine and are in a position to bear fruit by spreading the Good News effectively. When we are rooted and nurtured by making our home in Jesus, and nourished by His teaching, we will bear good fruit (Mt 7:17ff) and lots of it. Our fruit will contain seed, and that seed will have the capacity to produce even more fruit for the future.
Bearing fruit not only demonstrates our incorporation into Jesus, but also nourishes other people. In becoming attached directly to Jesus, the true vine, and in bearing good fruit, we become one in Him as Christians. Christ’s followers are all part of the one vine. In being engrafted into the true vine, we show the world the bond that exists between us and God, and with one another. Under no circumstances can it be right to cut ourselves off from Christ and from one another through selfishness, indifference or (worst of all) the sin of pride, for cut off from Me, you can do nothing (Jn 15:5). In the First Reading, following Barnabas’ assurance that Paul was the Real Deal and had encountered the Lord, Paul was accepted as a genuine follower of Christ and integrated into the Christian community. Thereafter, Paul set out to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles and thus to bear much spiritual fruit. Similarly, whoever “remains” in Christ bears fruit in plenty. The Holy Spirit “remained” on Jesus after His baptism (Jn 1:32), and so it is incumbent upon us to “remain” in Him (Jn 14:20 cf. Col 1:27).
To believe in Jesus is to have our minds enlightened by His teaching, to have our confidence rooted in Him and to have found peace from having His forgiveness. When we are deeply rooted in Our Lord, then we naturally incline to show real and active Christian love to others as He told us to (2nd Reading). Ask yourself how Jesus can be experienced within today’s society. The short answer is that He can be experienced through the example given to the world by you and by me, living out our lives in such a way as to help people to perceive and gasp at His supernatural glory in the ordinary situations of day-to-day life.
Let us pray: grant, O Lord, that we may never be separated from You, in order that we may produce in the world the fruits of unity, love and peace. Amen. God bless you.