Jesus uses the image of the vine and the branches to speak about the relationship between him and his disciples. How does that touch your personal relationship with him? And what kind of branch do you see yourself to be?
Pruning is that touch of tenderness and love that enables life to blossom
Bible readings Acts 9: 26-31 Psalm 22: 26-28, 30-32 1 John 3: 18-24 John 15: 1-8
I’m the vine, you are branches
The images that Jesus uses, the vine and the branches, are well known to his audience. Even if you are not of the culture of vines, nevertheless, the analogy is easy to understand. Whatever fruit tree you may think of, without being connected to a stem, branches will simply dry out. Certainly, the comparison does not leave indifferent anyone claiming to be a disciple of Jesus.
Thus, this Gospel provides an occasion to ask oneself: where am I rooted? What nourishes my ideas, thoughts, words and my actions? Here I think of the phrase: “you are what you eat,” which originally comes from Anthelme Brillat-Savarin who said: “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.” Though this was all about eating good food in order to be healthy, nevertheless, its moral significance can’t be missed. From what one says or does you can possibly deduce what nourishes their life. That’s why the refrain that you will find, repeatedly, in this reflection is the question: what nourishes my life?
What I fear about the pruning
In this Gospel Jesus exhorts his followers to remain rooted in him. Remember the moment, it’s just before his passion, meaning, a time of departure and the consequent separation. But how will the disciples fare in his “absence”? Will they become masters of their own? Perhaps, this touches also a question of fidelity, that is, will the disciples continue to be nourished and inspired by Jesus; resisting the enticement of configuring themselves onto other foreign vines?
Besides, it’s not just about being rooted in him, there’s also the need to maintain the vitality. But those who choose to remain in Jesus need not to worry –the father takes care of them so that they can flourish and continue bearing fruits in abundance. That’s why Jesus speaks of pruning.
But what does pruning mean?
With the image of pruning, there’s a danger of drifting to a point of harbouring a wrong image of God. In fact, it’s not rare to find people who will consider their suffering as God-sent, a kind of pruning for them. That’s my difficulty. I resist the sadistic image of God. Of course, even in moments of suffering, God can touch us in the manner that transforms us. However, it’s quite different to say that God sent me suffering so that I can convert –it’s probably a false accusation. I doubt if that’s the pruning Jesus is referring to!
That’s why I choose to understand it differently, but consistent with the image of the Father that Jesus has revealed to us. So I would think of the pruning in terms of the enabling touch of care and tenderness which God offers to any person open to receive his grace.
And so, I would add to say, it’s for parents, educators and all those who have persons under their care to take a leaf from God. The pruning is not repression; neither is it clipping so as to fit someone a prefabricated mould. It’s about letting life flourish! And the question would be: do my words and actions help others to blossom?
Image of the vine and branches; vital and transforming
By the image of the vine and the branches Jesus shows the vital relationship that exists between him and his disciples. That’s why he called them, first in order to nourish them with his word and the example of life, and then later, to send them. “He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach” (Mk 3:14). Indeed, when we allow ourselves to be nourished by him, by welcoming his word, something in us changes. That’s the testimony we find in the first reading. The encounter with Jesus transforms Saul the persecutor, giving birth to Paul –a great missionary to the nations –to the stupefaction of those who knew him before. That’s the fruit of the loving touch of God’s act of pruning! And that’s also what can happen to us when we allow ourselves to be nourished and purified by his word. What’s nourishing your life?
Talking of being nourished implies receiving, and that calls for
An attitude of humility
The relationship vine and branches is just not about the fruits I produce, but first and foremost, the capacity to remain connected to Jesus. Once that is done, the fruits are assured too. But the challenge is to have the humility to acknowledge our dependence, especially in the world where we are valued on the basis of our performance. Consequently, we risk undervaluing the importance of those moments of just sitting down and opening ourselves, in the silence of prayer, in order to receive.
At baptism we were configured onto Christ as only source of nourishment for our life; in our public function, in marriage, in religious life, or any other state of life. Perhaps the Gospel spurs us to make a check-up: what is nourishing my life today?
Jesus, by the inspiration of this Sunday’s word, I want to renew my choice: I still choose you as my vine; you are the source of nourishment for my life.
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