Saturday, May 9, 2009
The True Vine
Jesus said to his disciples:
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.
He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit,
and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.
You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.
Remain 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.
I 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.
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.
If you remain in me and my words remain in you,
ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.
By this is my Father glorified,
that you bear much fruit and become my disciples."
Reflecting on the Gospel reading for this Sunday, I cannot help but think back to my retreat last month, situated in the lovely harvest time vineyards of the Jesuit winery at Sevenhill. We just happened to be there in the weeks that the grapes were being harvested for processing... mostly by big and impressively effective machines. It isn't quite the image I had in mind of the Vinedresser depicted in the Gospel, who carefully prunes each vine of dead branches and picks the ripe grapes for the winepress.
For me, the most important grace of the retreat was very much about surrendering the illusion of self-sufficiency. This rich and multidimensional image that Jesus uses in the today's Gospel helps summarize that grace rather beautifully. He is the vine. I am a branch. And together, only together, can we bear fruit. No longer need I labor under the assumption that I am doing everything, let alone anything, under my own power. The Lord desires nothing more than to live in me and in you, and to love and labor through us in the world for the sake of the kingdom. The sap that flows from the vine out through the branches into the fruit is the life giving, love energy of the Spirit, and the way the Spirit is manifest in the world is in the fruit of our lives... the quality of presence we bring to our relationships, the gestures and expressions of affection, the tough and sometimes terrifying acts of love.
And then there is the pruning. A man I was spiritual director for was dealing with prostate cancer, and I was curious how he was able to keep such a positive outlook, let alone how he could devote so much time and energy to helping others who were in the same boat. He told me that he had led a very good life, and even though he was young-- in his early fifties, he trusted that through this cancer, that the Lord was pruning him for greater things. I will never forget the look of trust on his face as he told me this. "I am being pruned for greater things."