30 Apr Fifth Sunday in Easter
Deacon Blaine Barclay
“I-Am the True Vine and my Father is the vine grower’’. This saying is part of a cluster of seven I-AM statements found only in the Gospel of John. For example, ‘I-Am the Bread of Life’…. ‘I-Am the Light of the World’, last week’s, ‘I-Am the Good Shepherd’, and this week’s, ‘I-Am the True Vine’. The rootedness of this cluster of sayings in the sacred name of God, ‘I-Am-Who-I-Am’, is of course important, and it was precisely this rootedness that was one of the things that got Jesus into trouble. But let’s not miss the intimacy, the invitation to intimacy with Jesus, that is embedded in these statements, especially in our gospel today. ’’The I-Am the True Vine.… You are the branches…. Abide in me’’.
We know that it was common in Jewish circles at the time of Jesus to think of the people of Israel as a vineyard and God as the Vine-grower, the one who cares for and cultivates the vine and the branches so they will bear much fruit. It was also common to think of the Torah itself, the scriptures, as a vineyard. The connection here is that the people of God allow themselves to be cultivated by the study of the word of God. By digging around in the vineyard of the scriptures, we allow God to dig around in our lives, to water, fertilize, weed, and prune us, so that we can live more fruitful lives.
So, there was a familiarity about the language that Jesus is using. But with a twist, there is also something fresh and new. Jesus identifies himself with the Vine and his disciples with the vine branches. The father is the Vine-grower, Jesus is rooted and grounded in the Fathers planting and care. Jesus surrenders himself completely to be cultivated by the activity of the Father. The Father is the Gardener, the keeper and cultivator of the vineyard. But Jesus is both the True Vine and the one who cultivates us by the Word he has spoken to us. What does the text say, ’’My Father is the Vine-grower…. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit’’. But Jesus adds to this, and joins himself to the pruning activity of the Father. He goes on to say, ’’You have already been cleansed by the Word that I have spoken to you’’.
It is important for each one of us, if we hope to grow in the spiritual life, that we build into the disciplines of our discipleship, prayerful reading and study of the Word of God, especially the words of Jesus in the Gospels, Jesus, who is himself the Word of God made flesh. Our task is to grow in our attentiveness to his teaching, his living word to us.
But that is not all that is needed. Jesus is, The Vine with a difference, a Vine that prunes and cultivates the branches from within. ’’Abide in me as I abide in you’’, he says, and a little later, ’’If you abide in me and my words abide in you’’, and again, “Whoever abides in me bears much fruit’’. I love this little word, ’’abide’’. We don’t really use it in everyday modern English so it needs a little unpacking. The New Testament Greek word can also be translated as, ’remain in me’, ’stay united with me’, ’live in me’, ’joined with me’, ’continues in me’, ‘dwells in me’. This relationship of mutual in dwelling between the Vine and the branches is both organic and intimate. The words of Jesus, the Word who is Jesus, has become the interior principle of our life, the sap that flows through our Christian veins, so to speak.
Given this relationship of intimacy with Jesus, to which each one of us is called, our lives will bear much fruit, fruit that will last. What is this fruit, you may ask, this entering into the obedience of discipleship? John’s first letter tells us today, ’’That we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another’’. Love, of course is the sap, the life blood, that flows through the Vine and the branches. What is this fruit? St. Paul tells us in Galatians, ’’The Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control’’. These are the practices of discipleship, the virtues, the juicy fruits that God wants our lives to bare. Bearing these fruits is how we give glory to God. Close to the vine, pruned by his living word, may our lives continue to bear such virtues, such lasting fruit.