Acts9:26-31 /Ps. 22: 26b-27.28 / 30.:31-32/1Jn. 3:18-24/ Jn. 15:1-8
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Fr Galadima Bitrus, OSA
BECOMING A PRODUCTIVE BRANCH OF CHRIST, THE VINE
In the Gospel last Sunday, Jesus employed the metaphor of the Shepherd to describe the leadership he provides us and offers us as an example to emulate. In the Gospel Reading today (John 15:1-8), he employs yet another metaphor, that of the farmer, to explain the kind of relationship he has with the Father and with us, and how he expects us to nurture this relationship.
Jesus refers to himself as the true vine (in Gk, “he àmpelos he alēthinē”) and the father is the farmer (“ho geōrgòs, which literally means “the one who cultivates land”). His disciples are described as branches (klēma). The imagery of the vine is common in the Bible, usually employed to describe the relationship between God and his people.
In Isaiah 5:1-10, we find a parable where Israel is presented as a vineyard (in Hb, “kerem”) and God as a farmer who works hard to make the vineyard produce good grapes but instead, it was producing wild or sour grapes. In v.7, the parable is explained: “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel” (kî kerem Yhwh Ṣebaoth Bêt Yisrael).
God as the farmer in today’s parable, does not allow branches of the vine that cannot bear fruit to continue to choke those that bear fruit. Rather, there comes a time when he removes them to create space for fruit-bearing branches which he prunes to make them even more fruitful.
Now, pruning is a process of cleaning up. In fact, the word used here for pruning is “kathairei”, from “kathairō”, which means “to improve the quality of something by removing undesirable things”. Jesus also tells his disciples, “You are already clean by the word that I have spoken to you.” This gives us an idea of how the pruning or cleansing of the disciples happens. Jesus says, “by the word that I have spoken” (“dià tòn lògon hon lelàlēka humin”).
Going further, he tells his disciples, “If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you will, and it will be done for you.” In other words, Christ abides in his disciples through his word and it is this abiding word that cleanses or prunes them. Without the word, Christ cannot abide in us and we cannot be pruned and therefore cannot bear more fruit.
The metaphor of God as the farmer, Jesus the vine and we the branches, therefore, reveals to us the centrality of the Word of God in maintaining a productive relationship with Jesus. God abides with us “dià tòn lògon” (through the Word) and it is through the Word that he prunes and cleanses us that we may continue to bear more and more fruit.
In the 1st Reading (Acts 9:26-31), we find that after his mystical encounter with Christ and having been baptized, Saul dedicated himself to the proclamation of the word with uncommon zeal and courage, for which he was almost killed in Damascus (see Acts 9:20-24). Having escaped to Jerusalem, he continued speaking boldly in the name of the Lord, debating Greek-speaking Jews (Hellenists), for which they also tried to kill him but he escaped again to Caesarea (see Acts 9:25-30).
Paul travelled wide and endured many difficulties in his determination to spread the Word, knowing that the Word matters. For through the Word Christ abides in us and by it he prunes us for continuous productivity.
But proclamation of the Word, necessary as it is, is not enough. The proclaimed Word needs to be listened to in truth and in deed. Christ’s desire to abide with us must encounter our desire to abide with him. As we are told in the 2nd Reading (1 John 3:18-24), “all who keep his commandments abide in him and he abides in them” (3:24). Christ abides with us in the gift of his Word; we abide with him in keeping his Word.
Abide with us Lord and grant that we may abide in you. Grant that we may be your fruit-bearing branches, worthy of your pruning, that we may bear even more fruit!
Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai
Connect with the True Vine
On this Fifth Sunday of Easter, Jesus says “I am the true vine and we are the branches”. The relevance of the branch to the vine is fruitfulness. Therefore, we shall be looking at the basic themes of Vine, branches, and fruitfulness. But very quickly, let us look at the initial words “I Am”. “I Am” is very powerful theme in Christianity. “I Am” in today’s gospel is the last of the seven ‘I AM’ statements made by Jesus in the in the Gospel of John. Others are: I AM bread of life, 6:35; I AM light of the world, 8:12; I AM the door of the sheep, 10:7; I AM the resurrection and the life, 11:25; I am the way, the truth, and the life 14:6 and I am the Good shepherd Jn10:11. The Word “I AM” is the name of God; God said to Moses, “I am that I am” and when you are asked say to them “I AM has sent me to you.” (Exod 3:13-14). “I am that I am” is a common English translation of the Hebrew phrase אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה, (’ehyeh ’ăšer ’ehyeh) and owing to the peculiarities of Hebrew grammar it means both “I am”, “I was”, and “I will be”. This is explained in the nature of Christ in Heb. 13:8 that says “Jesus Christ never changes! He is the same yesterday, today, and forever”.
This tells us of the ever abiding presence of God. God is ever present with us. In Matt.28:20 Jesus says: I am with you always even to the end of time. This is a message of comforts and encouragement to us especially during these days of violence, fear, anxiety, insecurity; poverty and manslaughter. Beloved, God knows our struggles; in Psalm 46:1-3 He is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we are not afraid even though the earth should change or the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; even though the waters roar and foam, we serve a God who is ever present.
Let’s come to the word “Vine” in the Old Testament vine is used to represent Israel, the people of God. In Psalm 80:8 Israel is called the vine that was brought out of Egypt. In Isaiah 5 Israel was called a degenerated vine. Jeremiah 2:21 makes the same connection of Israel as the degenerated vine; a vine that was planted and nurtured yet degenerated into a rotten wild vine. In chapters 15, 17, and 19 of Ezekiel the same theme of vine was repeated. Israel degenerated and failed because of disobedience of the law. They refused to abide in God. The old vine failed and now we have the true vine. Jesus identifies himself as the “True Vine”. He is the true Israel. Jesus is teaching us that Israel, as God designed it to be, had failed; but it is not the end of God’s plan for his people. Jesus succeeded where Israel failed. Isaiah prophesied about Israel’s failure giving way to the promises of the one who will not fail in being a light to the nations and bringing salvation to the ends of the earth (Is.42:1-4).
The second theme today is “branches”. In biblical parlance branches of the tree often symbolize family and home. It refers basically to children of God. Therefore, Jesus is the True Vine and we are the branches. The implication of this is that if we must succeed we must be connected to the vine. To be connected is to abide in him. To abide in him the second reading says is to keep his commandments. Israel did not keep his commandments and so they failed. We can succeed if we keep his commandment; we can succeed if we abide in his love. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit unless it abides in the vine so we too cannot bear fruit unless we abide in him.
This brings us to the relationship between the Vine and the branches. The branches depend on the stem for survival; but the stem does not depend on its branches for survival. Therefore, the greater our union with him, the greater our chances for survival. Jesus himself says in John.15:5 apart from me you can do nothing. St Paul imitates these words and said in Phil.4:13 I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me. Matt.19:26 Jesus says with God all things are possible. This means that our absolute dependence in Jesus produces perfect confidence. Therefore, we can survive only when we remain connected. St. Paul in the first reading remained with Jesus in spite of the difficulties, misunderstandings, and suspicions he suffered. Despite the frustration a branch may go through in as much as it remains connected to the stem it will survive. If you like hide the branch from the sun and rain in as much as it remains connected to the stem it will survive. In the same vein, we can survive hard times if we do not break away from the vine.
The last theme for today is “Fruitfulness”: Beloved, Jesus became the true Vine, that we might be true branches. True branches are fruitful branches. Don’t be a branch that is not bearing fruit. The fruit we are called to bear are the fruits of the Holy Spirit enumerated in Gal.5:22-23 (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control). Of what use is our faith, worship, prayers and offering if we are not productive? What is the meaning of Christianity if we cannot love? Therefore, it is my prayer that we begin to bear fruit for the kingdom. I pray that God the Vinedresser should come and dress us once again, He is the true vine that will make us fine, He is the true vine that we make us shine and may be fruitful branches through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Fr. Paul Oredipe
JESUS CHRIST, the True Vine; We, the branches
A parallel statement is used this Sunday as Jesus proclaims: ‘I am the true vine’ (John 15:1). Jesus continues to speak to His disciples through imagery which they readily understood from their everyday experience, and with symbols which come from Jewish religious tradition.
A lot of messages and meanings could be drawn from the Gospel passage of today which describes Jesus as the true vine. Two parts could be drawn in these verses.
There is Jesus’ claim to be the giver of life, the fulfilment of all that was best in Israel, its ultimate hope for peace and prosperity. In addition to this, there is also the demand that the disciple ‘remain with’ Jesus. Of course, it is because Jesus claims to be not only the vine, but ‘the true’ vine, that the latter demand is so urgent.
Jesus is the source of life, peace and prosperity for all who would be His disciples. As He tells us in John 10:10 “I have come so that they may have life, and have it in abundance.” But, as always through the Gospel, Jesus admits that behind His life-giving power and presence is a Father. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.” Like a vinedresser, the Father must cut away those who claim to have their life in and through Jesus, but whose fruits deny the values of Jesus and His Father.
Jesus, by His own obedience, fulfils the expectations of the vinedresser and when the fruit of that vine is pressed out in the winepress of the cross, as the blood of the new and everlasting covenant, Jesus wins eternal redemption for all who obey Him as He obeyed the Father. This is the fruitfulness of Jesus and this fruitfulness glorifies the Father. As Jesus’ sonship is manifested by giving glory to the Father, so our discipleship of Jesus is manifested by our giving glory to the Father through our fruitfulness.
Jesus is telling us that the same thing can happen to us. In His own words: “I am the vine, you are the branches. 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.”
In simple terms, we belong to Jesus and we are part of Him like branches are part of a tree. As Christians, we must live in Christ and let Christ live in us. Our life as Christians is God’s life in us. And this life of friendship with God is fed or nourished by God Himself. There can be no substitute or exchange, just as no hungry man can ever resort to eating stones. No amount of such illusive substitute can take the place of real food or drink.
So also for our salvation, no branch can stand by itself. In fact, what defines a branch is the point or fact that it is part of something from which it derives or receives life. As branches, we cannot and we do not stand alone. Cut off from Christ, the true vine, we simply die. As the branch grows out of the trunk or vinestock and is alive with the very same life sap that is in the trunk, so are we all alive with His life, His love, His vitality. Because of this intimate union with Christ, one can say with St. Paul: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).
The life we are called to live and are preparing to live is not ours but that of Christ. “Without me you can do nothing.” Hence St. Paul says: “I can do all things by the power of him who strengthens me”.
But grace is even more remarkable. God is more than mere energy or power. He is a living Person. Grace is more than a thing, an energy; it is a person dwelling in our soul.
This life of God in us have been given us in Baptism. On that day, we truly became God’s children. Since then, God’s life in us, God himself lives in us – if we allow Him to do so. His life in us is fed by living in special union with Him through Jesus. Jesus Himself tells us what we need to be and to do in order to remain truly alive.
“Make your home in me, as I make mine in you. Whoever remains in me, with me in him bears fruit in plenty.”
Among others, we remain united to Jesus by three ways in particular – by gathering in His name, by listening to His word, and by sharing His Body and Blood.
Concerning gathering in His name, Jesus told his disciples, “Where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them.” (Matt. 18:20). When we gather in Jesus name, we have His promise that He is there with us.
Concerning reading and explaining His word, Jesus told his disciples, “Whoever listens to you listens to me.” (Lk. 10:16) When we hear the Gospel read and explained, we have Jesus’ promise that we listen to Him.
Concerning eating and drinking His Body and Blood, Jesus told His disciples, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me, and I live in him.” (John 6:56) When we share the Lord’s Supper, we have Jesus’ promise that He is united with us.
If we live in union with Jesus – in Him and He in us – we will remain alive yes, and more still, we will bear fruit in plenty. To live united to Jesus, to live with the life of Jesus through His word’s finding a home in us and through our making our home in His word – this is the sole, but totally necessary condition of our being fruitful.
The person of Jesus must be our model and our inspiration. We have been prepared to bear fruit, but even in this situation, we are unable to set out on our own. As Jesus, the vine, only exists to make the Father known, so must it also be with the Christian disciple. We pray often ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done’, but often it is our own kingdom and our own will that we seek.
How are we to become fruitful ?
This question has been answered by Jesus himself in the image He puts before us. St Paul later translated this into the image of the Mystical Body of Christ. The image of the vine and branches used by Jesus implies three consequences for us.
As branches of the vine, we live by the life of Christ; that is our great privilege. As branches of the vine, we must be fruitful; that is our duty and responsibility. As branches of the vine, we must accept pruning, which is simply another image for what Jesus so often insists upon – that we share in His passion and cross.
What kind of fruit is Christ talking about ? (cf. Gal. 5: 22 – 26)
John the apostle tells us in the Second Reading about ‘the kind of life that he (God) wants”. John explains that it is a life where there is “love . . . not just words or mere talk, but something real and active”. This is the kind of fruit that God is looking for in our lives. The kind of fruit that He gives us to bear when we live in Him.
In simple words, these fruits are the good actions that come from living with Jesus. As He Himself lived His life doing good to people. In the same way, when we live with Him, in Him and He in us, we too live our life doing good. In fact, He continues, through us, doing good to people. The love of God passes through us and goes out to others – others in need of Him, in need of His help. His help reaches them through us.
Something else happens as we live in Jesus and He in us. Look as what He tells us: “If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, you may ask what you will and you shall get it.”
These are strong words, indeed great promises and decisive assurance. This means that when we ask God for our needs, or the needs of those we love, our prayer will be heard. We can be sure of this.
As we worship today let us pray that Jesus Himself will keep us ever close and united with Him and that through this union with Him, the unity of His Body, the Church will be preserved and promoted.
Also we pray for ourselves, that we may continue to draw life from our true vine, Jesus Christ, who has truly risen and is ever alive, reigning with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.