I am the vine, you are the branches…
The Gospel reading for today comes from the long discourse in the Gospel of John, which Jesus gave to His disciples on the eve of His passion. Today’s passage is the parable of the vine.
The metaphor of the vine is one that was very familiar to the people of Israel. God’s hope for Israel was that Israel would be like a vineyard in which he lovingly planted the choicest vines. He expected the vines to produce the choicest grapes. Instead they yielded only sour grapes.
God asks: “What could I have done for my vineyard that I have not done? I expected it to yield grapes. Why did it yield sour grapes instead?” The prophet continues: “Yes, the vineyard of Yahweh Sabaoth is the house of Israel and the men of Judah, that chosen plant. He expected justice, but found bloodshed, integrity, but only a cry of distress” (Is 5:4, 7).
Hear Jesus now, saying to his disciples: “I am the true vine…” He will produce the desired fruits of justice and integrity! He will allow himself to be pruned into obedience to the Father’s will so that He could become the vine through which the sap of God’s grace could flow into us his branches.
By virtue of our Baptism we became those branches connected to Christ our true vine. Through Him like the sap in the vine, the life of God, the Holy Spirit passes into us. This connection is seamless! The life of the vine is the life of the branch. Jesus lives in us and we live in Jesus. Jesus bears fruit through us and we bear the fruit of Jesus.
Jesus continues the analogy. Anyone who separates himself from the vine will be “like the branch that is thrown away— he withers, is collected, thrown in the fire and burnt.” As independent as we think we are as human beings we need to belong! “You Lord are my praise in the great assembly” prays the psalmist. We cannot go it alone. We need to stay connected to Jesus and we need to stay connected to the Church.
When we commit ourselves to belonging to Christ and to a worshipping community, like the branches on a vine, we will be pruned! Every branch that does bear fruit, [God] prunes to make it bear even more!”
We have an example of this in Saul whom we read about in today’s first reading. Saul, gifted as he was, needed to be pruned. He had to be stripped of branches that yielded harmful fruits in order for new branches to spring forth bearing sweet tasting fruit.
Not only that, Saul went to Jerusalem seeking membership in the church community there. This community needed to be pruned too of their fear and mistrust of Saul. With the help of Barnabas, they eventually did and welcomed Saul as a brother. Saul would later become Paul, a powerful apostle to the Gentiles bearing numerous fruits of the holy preaching, writing various letters to the churches, and witnessing to the power of the risen Christ in his life. Indeed, the whole community of believers flourished!
Centuries later, another fiery branch would spring from the vine, Catherine of Siena, whose feast day we celebrate today. Her piety was matched only by her works of charity, but only after her own submission to God’s pruning.
As a young woman she wanted only to spend time in prayer, but a mystical encounter with Christ helped her to see that love of Jesus meant also that she opened her self to other branches on the vine. Her love for Christ was transformed from being just mere words, to something more real and active, bearing fruits in tremendous works of mercy.
Like Paul, she was not afraid to speak truth to political leaders and to errant popes drawing them back into communion with the true vine, pruning them so they too could bear the sweet tasting fruits of integrity and justice.
What in me, in our Church, needs to be pruned so that we may bear more faithfully the fruits of the resurrection?
St Paul, pray for us. St Catherine of Siena, pray for us. Amen! Alleluia!
The Gospel Meditations for April were by Sr Gail Jagroop OP, a Dominican Sister of Sinsinawa.