Acts 9:26-31; 1Jn 3:18-24; Jn 15: 1-8
The Vine and the Branches
Somebody once compared a Christian to a basketball player. “To be a good player,” he said, “it’s not enough that you know how to dribble or avoid getting fouls. What matters most is to be able to shoot, to make points and to be productive.”
Jesus compared His true follower to a plant. A plant does not just sprout or grow but should bear fruit. He said, “He who abides in me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing…. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples,” (vv. 5-8).
But in the first place, Jesus speaks of Himself as the vine. Why does Jesus speak of Himself as the true vine? The image of the vine was a rich one for the Jews since the land of Israel was covered with numerous vineyards. It had religious connotations to it as well. Isaiah spoke of the house of Israel as the “vineyard of the Lord (5:7). Jeremiah said that God had planted Israel “as His choice vine” (2:21). The vine became a symbol of Israel as a spiritual inheritance through association with a particular people or bloodline, rather, it is only through Him that one can become grafted into the true “vineyard of the Lord.” Jesus offers true life, the abundant life which comes from God and which results in great fruitfulness.
In other words, this gospel passage is all about union with Jesus, just like branches to a vine. It is keeping in touch with Jesus. as Christians we are united to Jesus for the first time through Baptism. This Baptism is the indelible mark that remains in us forever. One way of being united to Jesus is by hearing the word of God. Through the Spirit of truth, the word of God feeds our souls. So powerful is the Word of God that it is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit….” (Heb 4:11). The Word of God has the power to transform those who sincerely seek the truth.
Fr. Ruben Villote in his homily book, A Clown Among Many, said that being attached (or united) to Jesus is not only being with Jesus but being Jesus as a friend and becoming Jesus in the process. As St. Paul said, “It is no longer I who live but Christ lives within me,” (Gal 2:20). Being attached to Jesus is not necessarily memorizing the Bible, saying the right prayers and using the right words, the right gestures and the right theology, but of course these are necessary also for our spiritual growth. Being attached to Jesus is being detached from the compulsive desire for everything that is not God: property, pleasure, prestige, power and I will add Pera (money) and pride.
Being attached to Jesus is not doing something but being with Jesus and becoming Jesus in the way I think, feel, act and react.
Being united with Jesus is by serving the people. That is by helping curtail drug addiction and inspiring a love of learning in our students, diminishing dissension and instilling cooperation in parishes, societies and curbing quarrels and filing homes with loving concern and going out of our way to help the hungry, those in want, the oppressed and those who suffer injustice.
Being united with Jesus is by prayer. Prayer is not a luxury but a necessity. To keep in touch with others we need devices like telephone, mails and others. To keep in touch with Jesus, the source of our spiritual strength, there is no substitute for prayer. To start our days habitually without asking for his help or to let the week slip by without being present in the Mass is to lose touch with the vine that sustains us. We may become barren branches. In other words, we should be united to Him through prayer, actions and in words and by doing these then we can bear much fruit.
The Lord expects His disciples to bear fruit. It is not enough, according to Bishop Teodoro Bacani in his homily book, The Good News Church, for us to be mabongga (showy). We have to be mabunga (fruitful). In fact, Jesus wants to bear plenty of fruit and not simply to bear fruit. Jesus tells us that the Father is glorified by our bearing much fruit. The branch that already bears fruit the Father prunes that it may be bear more fruit. And the person who lives in Christ and Christ in him will produce abundant fruit. That is why in order for us also to bear fruit and the vine too become fruitful, we must be ready to be pruned as the vinedresser must carefully prune the vine before it can bear good fruit. The non-bearing branches must be carefully pruned back in order for the vine to conserve its strength for bearing good fruit.
What is it to bear fruit? Bishop Bacani asked. It is to produce good works and good results for the Kingdom of God. He is not content with an occasional good work. He wants us to be perfect as He us perfect. He wants us to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength. He wants us to actualize our potentials to the maximum. But in today’s gospel reading, the word “fruit” is applied in its singular form. What does this mean? If it were in the plural form, it would be a reference to our spiritual works. Here the word “fruit” is a reference to our personal sanctification by the power if the indwelling Holy Spirit. It is a reference to the fruit of the Holy Spirit. The fruit of the Holy Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control,” (Gal 5:22). These are the virtues that must shine through us so we can remain united to the vine who is Jesus as our source of life.
Let us thank God for the grace of being united to Jesus by faith and baptism, not through any merits of our own but because of the Lord’s mercy.
See Today’s Readings: Cycle B
See Homily Option