Today’s readings take us into the heart of the divine union between Jesus and the Father, and between Jesus and those who choose to follow him. Jesus’ powerful words about the vine and branches provides us with an image we can all understand. A branch cut off from its vine dies. It cannot live on its own; much less can it produce fruit on its own. But if it remains connected, it receives the life energy of the vine, and it lives and grows and bears fruit. This simple image reveals something of the mystery of our relationship with Jesus and with the Father.
The life and love shared by the Father and the Son is not exclusive but is available to us all, for Jesus has declared that he is the vine and we are the branches. What a joyous connection! When we are connected to the vine – to Jesus – we are also connected to the Father, and to each other as the Body of Christ. The same life and grace flow through us as through Jesus himself, providing us with everything we need to flourish and bear the fruit God created us to bear. But if we allow our connection to him to be broken, we are on our own, and our future is as futile and bleak as that of a branch broken off from the thriving plant that produced it. Jesus makes the contrast between being connected to him and not being connected very clear: if we remain in him, we “will bear much fruit”; if not, we bear no fruit. Much fruit or no fruit. Bearing a little fruit on our own is not an option. He says bluntly: “without me you can do nothing.” Jesus is our indispensable source of life, the one upon whom we must depend totally.
Based on this vital communion between Jesus and us, and between Jesus and the Father, we can have great confidence in the power of prayer. “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.” The expression, “whatever you want” does not mean “whatever vain desire pops into your head.” What we want is fullness of life, and this is what the Father wants for us. Our connection with Jesus the vine implies that our deepest desire corresponds with his. Our prayer is that the Father’s will be done, and that is Jesus’ prayer – so we can be sure that it will be done! But for our prayer to be fruitful, we must remain grafted on and connected to the vine. Whatever part of our life that blocks the flow of the vine’s life must be cut off. This “pruning” process can strike us as painful and contradictory; we feel as if life is being taken away from us rather than given. But the Father, the divine vine grower, knows how to make us fruitful. “He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.”
We live in an age of unprecedented “connectedness.” The technological advances in the media of communication have made possible instant connectedness and access to everyone and everything we desire. But ironically, we are also more disconnected from one another than at any other time in history. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, the Internet, iPhone, iPad, i-everythings – which all make communication possible – also make it more difficult, because we are more tempted to focus on the “I” than the “we.” Social communications often give only the illusion of true personal connection. Even worse, they can distract us from the one primary and vital connection, our life in Jesus Christ, the true Vine. If we are online with thousands of social contacts, but offline with the Lord, we cannot bear fruit. We foster a chaotic world, filled with people disconnected from each other and even from themselves, and most tragically, disconnected from Jesus, the Source of all life and goodness.
In the first reading, the new convert Saul experiences a disconnection from the disciples until Barnabas takes charge of him and facilitates his integration into the Christian community. In time Saul (Paul) will bear much fruit, but only in communion with the Church. We learn from this incident that we all need, not only our primary connection to Jesus but also our communion with each other as members of his Church. We were never meant to build the Kingdom alone. No vine has only one living branch! We must work together, nourished by the vine and supported by each other, in order to bear abundant fruit. As the psalmist says, “I will praise you, Lord, in the assembly of your people.”
In the second reading, we hear again, this time from John, how vital it is that we remain connected with Jesus and with his Body. This is what it means to love God and love our neighbor, not only “in word or speech but in deed and truth.” John describes the two dimensions of a living branch in this way: “we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us.” To believe and to love, to share in the life of the true Vine and to share that same life with one another – to stay “connected” – this is the great gift and the great challenge of Easter.
How can I strengthen my connection to the Vine? Do I pray for the will of God to be done in my life? What is the nature of my personal connection with others?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 14, no. 4. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.