In many of the gospels that we hear during this Easter season, we are given various images from Jesus of the unity desired by God for His People. Last week we heard of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who gathers the one flock around Him and guides us into peace. Today, we have another image of unity as Jesus tells us, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” With this image, He establishes the relationship that we are to live in order to be His true disciples.
“Apart from me you can do nothing,” Jesus tells us. We are called as branches to bear fruit for the Father. Branches that do not bear fruit are worthless, and they are removed and burned. Branches that do bear fruit, however, are not simply left alone. Rather, they are pruned.
And pruning can be a harsh process. It involves snipping, tweaking, clipping, and cutting. To one who has no idea what is going on, it looks like trauma and destruction. However, when a branch on the vine is pruned, cared for in this way, the production of fruit actually increases. But that fruit can only be possible so long as the branch remains on the vine.
So Jesus tells us, “Remain in me, as I remain in you.” What does this mean? How do we “remain” in Jesus?
As I said, the one who prunes does so with the expectation that this pruning will yield even greater fruit. Therefore, when we branches experience the “turmoil” of the clipping and snipping of the Pruner, our response can be complaint – or, it can be expectant awe. What is God getting ready to do in me, in you, in our families, our parishes, our communities, when we are experiencing the distress and turmoil of this pruning?
We are getting our share of turmoil now in Baltimore. The protests, riots and demonstrations have brought national attention to the city we love, and there is much heartache that comes with this. I have been dismayed at seeing and hearing people I love and respect spouting racist hatred and prejudice in reaction to the horrible things we are witnessing. Those who enact crimes are criminals, and we have a system to deal with them. However, how much fruit is being borne by referring to them as “animals” or by making snide comments about welfare and fatherless families?
I challenge this parish to rise above this hatred. We need to look at ourselves and recognize our own prejudices. They are real and they are a disease. We can change this situation.
But it only happens when we remain in the true Vine. Only connected to Jesus can we do anything – can we bear any fruit. In Scripture, the imagery of grapes and wine is meant to convey a sense of joy that is brought about through a proper relationship with God. Wine is a blessing (think about that when you go to dinner at someone’s home; you often bring wine!). But wine needs grapes, and grapes need branches, and branches need the Vine.
It is a trite comment when responding to touch times to say “What would Jesus do?” However, in these times, I am disillusioned by that question. “What would Jesus do?” implies that He is not actually present, so we need to guess at what He would do. No. Our faith is that Jesus is Risen! He is present now! What is Jesus doing – now, here, in you, in me, in our families, in our community? He is active when we are active; when we are loving; when we are bearing fruit and acting for peace.
We've seen glimpses of what Jesus is doing in these last days: the brave, dutiful service of our men and women in law enforcement protecting life and limb in the city; our first responders and firefighters; the parents who strive to pull their kids from the streets; the men and women who stand with and between rioters and police lines; the clergy and people of faith praying for peace in our streets and churches. Jesus is definitely doing something here!
We start here – in prayer – united with Jesus the Vine. He gives us life and we are called to bear fruit that we can share with others – for an increase in joy, and increase in peace.
Remain in Him.
During this month of May, we traditionally honor Mary, the Mother of God. I ask you to consider praying with Mary each day – try praying the Rosary, where Mary prays with you, and God hears the prayers of His Mother. Together, united in prayer, as branches on the True Vine, we are agents for peace and justice in our community.
What would Jesus do? No – this isn’t our faith. God is preparing to act in us in remarkable ways.
What is Jesus doing now?