Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Wednesday in the 5th Week of Easter
Clinging to the True Vine

Readings: Acts 15:1-6; Psalm 122:1-2, 3-4ab, 4cd-5; John 15:1-8
Picture: CC

Whereas the image of the Shepherd loomed large in our gospel readings for last week, today we see a shift to that of the Vine. Most if not all of us are probably so familiar with the image of the Vine that this change is not likely to unsettle us, not in the least. Which is not such a good thing, since such complacency might well lead us to overlook at least one strikingly significant characteristic of the Vine, an aspect that subtly sets it apart from the Shepherd.

Recalling our meditations on the tenth chapter of John, we will see that the Shepherd is essentially portrayed as one who acts. He enters the sheepfold. He gathers his sheep, calling them by name. He leads them out to find pasture and onward into the fullness of life. Relating to one such as he, we are challenged to learn to recognize the Shepherd’s voice, to follow him closely, and to imitate his pastoral qualities in our dealings with those entrusted to our care.

Consider now the image of Christ as the True Vine. In contrast to the One who acts, we are presented instead with One who is acted upon. 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 everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit… How does one relate to the Vine? Jesus leaves us in no doubt. Remain in me… 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… And it is perhaps important, at this point, to render explicit something that remains only implicit in the Lord’s words. If Christ is the True Vine who submits to the Father’s pruning, and if we are to remain in Christ, then aren’t we also challenged to allow ourselves to be acted upon by the Father? Aren’t we challenged to submit ourselves to pruning? If this may sound a little too abstract, the first reading conveniently illustrates the point for us.

Here, the Vine that is Christ present in the early Christian community has reached a major developmental stage in its growth. The question that arises is whether or not Christians should be required to undergo circumcision as prescribed in the Mosaic Law. The issue provokes intense controversy and heated debate, culminating in the so-called Council of Jerusalem. Ultimately, as we well know, the Council decides in the negative. And the passing of time confirms the wisdom of that decision. The branch of circumcision is eventually excised from the Vine that is Christ’s Body the church. What then, we may wonder, becomes of all those who had argued so strenuously on the opposite side of the issue? Will they continue to cling to their preference, their branch, even when it becomes clear that the Vine is growing in a different direction? Will they remain so tied to their opinions that they are willing to separate themselves from the Vine?

One is reminded of a cartoon in which someone saws a branch while sitting in a tree. The humorous thing about the cartoon is that the person is sawing the very branch upon which s/he is sitting. It’s funny for us who are looking on, but not for the one on the branch, especially not after it has been sawn through.

Faced with the image of Christ as the True Vine, perhaps we might reflect today upon the ways in which we are being invited to submit to the Father’s pruning.

To what are we clinging, our preferred branch or the One True Vine?

1 comment:

  1. I'm reminded of several friends who have chosen to leave the Church because of some unpleasant encounters within their parish. One in fact became a Buddhist and the other joined a Protestant group. Every now and then, when I remember them while at prayer, I would pray that they would one day return to the True Vine.

    What I can't quite understand is how one could generalize from a skirmish with a few people to a total breakaway from the Church. While we Christians are called to follow Christ and lead holy lives, I think we fall short many times and this is to be expected. Try as we may, we are all sinners in one way or another!


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