WHOEVER REMAINS IN ME AND I IN HIM WILL BEAR MUCH FRUIT
Sunday, May 3, 2015
Fifth Sunday of Easter
The Vine and the Branches
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.2He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.3You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.4Remain 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.5I 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.6 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.7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.8By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
Other readings: Acts 9:26-31; Psalm 22:26-27; Psalm 22:28; Psalm 22:30; Psalm 22:31-32; 1 John 3:18-24
The readings this Sunday pose a serious problem for anyone trying to put them together with certain logic, as they approach too many, and quite different, subjects. I will do my best to find a guideline to lead us through this biblical and theological forest.
Perhaps we should look to John for our first glimpse into the deep connotations we find in our liturgy. We are accustomed to speaking about him as the most “spiritual” evangelist based upon the way he uses peculiar metaphors and images. Even the onset of his Gospel is no less than the very “beginning” of reality; the origin is abstract, the Word, through whom everything was made. Suddenly, we find that the mysterious Word became man and became visible, touchable, someone the disciples had seen and heard. Thus, when coming to the ordinary life of Christians, what could have been understood as a general, out-of-this-world guideline or ethical principle, love, is so much more for John. It is as concrete and practical as taking into account the needs and troubles of the other members of the community and showing compassion “in deed and truth.” That is, in the end, the practical example Jesus set for the disciples to follow: washing their feet in anticipation of his greatest “service,” that of laying down his life for them and for the world. As we can see, all the motifs connect and link with one another. Keeping his commandments is the sign that we “remain” in him, just like the branches remain in the vine if they want to bear fruit.
Now we come to the image of the vine and examine the difference between this image and that which John used in the passage from his Gospel that we read last week. The sheep had an autonomous existence. They could go in and out of the fold, hear the shepherd’s voice, recognize it, and follow him. To begin, take note of a curious detail. Just as Jesus was not “a shepherd” but the “good” shepherd, in today’s text, he is not “a vine” but the “true” vine. This is in contrast with Israel, “the vine of the Lord,” taken care of but unable to bear the good fruits of justice and mercy. The image of the vine adds a new dimension to the relationship existing between the disciples and Jesus. In this case, the branches cannot do anything by themselves, but need to remain united to him, the true vine. This verb, “remain,” becomes the backbone of the entire passage. It appears seven times explicitly and twice implicitly; and if we take the whole section, to verse 11, we find it three more times. Just as it had been used to describe the relationship derived from the physiological action of eating Jesus’ flesh (John 6:55-57), where remaining in him means living because of him; so too, in this passage, remaining in Jesus just like a branch remains attached to a vine means having a living, “organic” relationship with him and bearing fruit.
All this leads us back to the text from 1 John where we find a link between God’s love, our certitude concerning his mercy, and the way in which we “remain” in him and in Jesus. Keeping his commandments has as its foundation faith in his name. And, again a radical statement: belief in him means loving as he commanded us. Unfortunately, Jesus’ words, explaining the meaning of “bearing fruit” as an expression of his obedience to the Father’s commandments (John 15:9-11), has been omitted in the section selected for the Lectionary. Try to complete your reading to get a full vision of the text.
As we have seen, there are too many elements to consider this Sunday. Some deserve further reflection. “Remain,” as I said, is the backbone and should make us think about our remaining, “staying” or “dwelling” (other possible translations of the Greek word) as a state of closeness and familiarity with Jesus. That takes us back to John 1:35-39, the calling of the first disciples and their “staying” with Jesus as the first step in following him. What kind of familiarity with Jesus have we developed in our life of faith? Is he still an historical character, a mysterious quasi mythical being? What do we mean when we say that he is our Lord? How do we address him in prayer? The other subject I have not even mentioned is that of pruning the branches. What leaves or twigs are preventing us from bearing the fruit we should yield? What have we put aside (or still need to put aside) to follow Jesus? Another issue that I only dare suggest: what kind of communion do we share with the other branches that, together with us, remain in Jesus, the “true vine”?
Pray for those who feel isolated in their Christian life: that they may experience their communion with Jesus as a vital link, recognizing him as the source of life and of the fruits of love and justice they are called to bear.
Pray for the Christian community to which you belong: that the personal communion of each member with Jesus may strengthen the communion among the members, making them fruitful, capable of loving not just “in word or speech but in deed and truth.”
Take your time. Look for a quiet environment and try to identify the factors that hinder your growth in the calling to fruitful love you have received from Jesus. Consider the ways you use your time, your human resources, your money and material gifts. As usual, do not fix your attention on the negative side or linger on remorseful thoughts, but find a practical way to develop just one of those assets or gifts you have received to produce fruits of love for others.
Reflections written by Rev. Fr. Mariano Perrón, Roman Catholic priest, Archdiocese of Madrid, Spain