Greetings, SBT Readers!
Just a few words to let you know that, as of yesterday, I now have a new address (see end of SBT). I am surrounded by countless boxes and plastic storage bins but I am back online and none the worse for wear except being sleep deprived and stiff from all the sorting and carrying. Amidst all the chaos, two of my orchids surprised me with amazing blooms. Evidently, the life force is not limited by chaos and perhaps flourishes because of it!
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 prunes everyone that does 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.
Those who remain in me and I in them 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.
As in the case of his analogy to the Good Shepherd, Jesus' description of himself as "the True Vine" explains his intimate relationship with his disciples; in this case, however, the image goes deeper. As "sheep," we can be confident of Jesus' loving care and watchful eye, even when we go astray. As "vine branches," we discover our symbiotic relationship with Jesus: just as the vine needs branches to be a vine, so the branches need the vine simply to exist. Jesus, then, is the source of our life and our strength and if we "remain" in him, we will therefore be able to fulfill our mission as disciples.
Now, this relationship has its challenges. While the image of Jesus carrying a lost sheep on his shoulders evokes feelings of love and tenderness, the image of Jesus carrying pruning shears is less comforting. Pruning is a violent action. Anyone who has ever done any gardening knows that straggly plants need to be cut back and that deadwood has to go. As a plant lover, I have always "wintered" my geraniums but this entails clipping away at "leggy" shoots so that stronger plants may emerge. I know that if I allow the shoots to have their way, my geraniums will have plenty of green foliage but no blooms. For a while, the denuded plants look pitiful. I have to admit that I often wonder if I have gone too far with my pruning shears and whether excessive pruning will actually kill my geraniums rather than help them flourish. Within a week or two, however, new growth emerges and I begin to anticipate a riot of color.
So how does this analogy relate to us? In the first place, "pruning" is both a necessity and an act of love. In order to grow spiritually and emotionally, we need to submit to the Divine pruning shears. All old baggage, bad habits, destructive thought patterns, and egotistical tendencies need to go. This pruning doesn't happen all at once but is a gradual process during which we begin to see our "shadow" side and find ways of dealing with it. Jesus told his disciples that he had already "pruned" them through his teachings (Jn 15:3); the implication here is that if we live according to his teachings on love and forgiveness, we will become like him. To quote St. Paul, the old self must die: "So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come!"
(2 Cor 5:17).
Secondly, if we do indeed die to our ego-selves so that it is Christ who lives in us (Gal 2:20), then Christ will work through us. All that we accomplish will have little to do with pre-existing skills and talents but will have its source in the power of God flowing through us, in us, and around us, through Christ Jesus. Our old, limited, false selves delude us into giving ourselves credit for what we have accomplished, but Jesus reminds us that "a branch cannot bear fruit on its own." In fact, he warns us that unless we "remain" in him, we can do nothing (Jn 15:5). Now, the "something" we can accomplish through Jesus goes beyond what we would normally define as "success"; a humble person, of course, will give God the credit for everything -- and rightly so-- but Jesus is speaking specifically about our spiritual impact. When we "remain" in Jesus, we will be able to love as he loves, heal he heals, comfort as he comforts, teach as he teaches, and liberate as he liberates. In short, we will become "Christ" for the world, thereby allowing his legacy to continue.