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 everyone 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.” John 15:1-5
My son Mark watched as my friend Jason and I pruned my young peach, plum, and nectarine trees this year. The blossoms had already begun and I’m not sure Mark was very happy about seeing all those pretty flowers, attached to small branches, falling to the ground! I went into his room later than evening and he had on his headboard a small glass jar with some water and a few of those branches that had earlier been cut off inside! The flowers were still quite bright and beautiful, I might add. I asked, “Mark, why did you put those branches in the glass?” He said, “Dad, I’m going to let them grow so that I can have some peaches of my own!” Super cute, right? I said as I gave him a big hug, “Son, those flowers are very pretty, but they can’t and won’t give you the fruit you desire. Once those branches are cut from the tree, although they might look nice for a while, they will die.” And that, my friends, is the hard truth that exposes the world’s lie that Jesus is trying to teach His disciples in today’s Gospel reading.
Jesus teaches His disciples that He is the true vine. He alone is the means by which we produce the fruit of a Spirit-filled life, which St. Paul teaches the Galatians are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control” (5:22-23). When we are disconnected from the vine that is Christ Jesus, we will wither and die. Period. We might look nice for a while, smell nice for a while, but at the end of the day, we simply cannot bear fruit. As Jesus says, “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.”
I’m not an expert when it comes to things plant-like, but I know enough to know that fruit doesn’t come from the grocery store! Fruit comes from tree branches, vine branches, and the like. And those branches must be connected to a source, a tree, or a vine. And that tree or vine must be firmly planted in good, healthy the ground. It is from the fertile earth that the tree receives nutrients and water that it might grow, that it’s branches might spread, that it’s flowers might blossom, and that its fruit might grow. And that’s just the way it works.
We are like those branches, says Jesus. He is firmly planted in the Father’s love. As the third Person of the Holy Trinity, He and the Spirit share with the Father an eternal exchange of love. And the amazing thing is that God has destined us to share in that love! We are not meant to be disconnected, isolated, and alone–in other words, dead. We are instead called to the joy of sharing in the loving communion of God. This is what we call Heaven, namely, total immersion in the life and love of God for eternity. God has revealed that we can achieve this end in Him through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. We know that through Him we can achieve this unity with the Father and the Father’s love even now in partial and various ways right here on earth where it then reaches its fullness when we pass from this earthly existence to the next. He said it himself, and yes, that’s just the way it is. That’s great news! Don’t be afraid to share it!
During this life we are offered quite a lot by many people that promise to satisfy our deepest longing for happiness, peace, joy, and love, but like my son’s peach blossoms, that simply cannot deliver what they promise. The things in this world are very nice to look at, smell sweet to our nose, sound wonderful to the ears, but have their end not in fulfillment and satisfaction, but in greater hunger than ever. How many, myself included, have had to discover the hard way that only Jesus Christ has the power to deliver what the world promises–peace, fulfillment, and love? Only when we seek Him, enter into unity with Him, and remain in Him will the love of God that gives meaning and purpose to our life, pulse through our very being. Amazing grace indeed.
And what of this fruit that both Jesus and St. Paul talk about? You know, my trees do not produce peaches for their own sake. They don’t need them! They need only the soil, water, and the sun. The same is true of all fruit bearing plants and trees! The fruit is not for their sake, but for the sake of other to enjoy. And the same is true of the fruit of the Spirit-filled life. Remain in Christ, produce much fruit–not for your sake, but for the sake of the world that is hungry for more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. If you think we could use a little more of these in our world, give me an AMEN! Stop collecting branches that have been cut off, have pretty blossoms, but will soon be dead. Instead cling to Christ. He is the source for what the world needs most and that which our heart truly desires.