Gospel – John 15:1-8
“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.”
Reflection on the Gospel
Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God.
Catholics generally don’t know Martin Luther’s writings. Deeply learned in scripture, he also had a gift for one-liners: “If you want to make the angels laugh, read scripture commentaries.” May these thoughts on the true vine at least provide the angels some mirth. Augustine thought true meant a fruitful vine. He compared this passage with one from Jeremiah about a ‘strange’ vine that turned sour [2:21]. Jeremiah had unleashed a jeremiad against Israel for having fallen into wickedness. God had planted a ‘noble’ vine but the nation, the vine, became ‘degenerate.’ Jesus replaces the old vine. As he often says, his journey through life, death, and new life fulfills the prophets. The true vine and the good shepherd make a parallel. The shepherd metaphor is more touching. The vine metaphor doesn’t convey much sense of warmth. One hook into its meaning might be in the mention of “pruning.” The gardener, God the Father, will prune the branches, namely us, in a common reading. Thanks to Wikipedia, I learned about pruning. Pruning cannot be pleasant for the plants. Scissors, sharp knives, axes, and nowadays chainsaws are the tools. The gardener digs deep, cleaning out the deadwood, pests, fungi, pebbles, rot. He saws off branches he can’t save. We strive to be branches who need to be cleaned up, not removed, Pruning helps us become the people we want to be, our best selves. It will be painful. Facing up to who we are and how we act is hard work. Pruning away self-deception takes formidable persistence. And changing our ways still awaits. In the Gospel, Jesus suddenly remarks that the ‘word’ has made his followers, and us, clean, departing from the horticultural imagery. The ‘word’ may refer to the prophets, or the word spoken by Jesus, most of all to Jesus himself. How do we sum up the vine story neatly? Augustine, in an unusually diffuse commentary, brings in the cleansing water of baptism, further complicating the metaphor. We have a theological maze here: pruning, a cleansing ‘word,’ the water of baptism . Skirting twists and turns, all three have in common our need to remove those disfigurements making us less than we would like to be. Jesus speaks a hard lesson there. Do we malign others, or withhold ordinary courtesies, or slander in subtle ways? Making our Easter joyful depends on willingness to see our whole selves and then get a fresh start.
Brother Charles O’Connell, FSC
A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Catholic University, Br. Charles earned graduate degrees from Syracuse University and NYU, and has taught at St. John’s College High School, CBA-Syracuse, Manhattan College; and La Salle Academy-NYC. Disabled by the long term effects of polio, he now resides at De La Salle Hall.
Saint John Baptist de La Salle – Pray for us.
Live, Jesus, in our hearts – Forever.