Homily for May 13th, 2020: John 15:1-8.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.” Some Bible scholars think that Jesus spoke these words as he crossed the
courtyard with his eleven still faithful friends after the Last Supper. It was
Passover time, so there would have been a full moon. The golden vine around the
which symbolized God’s people, glowed in the moonlight. Pointing first to himself,
then to the vine, Jesus says: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the
vine grower ...” Temple
In calling himself the true vine, Jesus implies a contrast. God’s people, the vine he had brought out of Egypt and planted in a new land, had not been true. Jesus had been true. His death the next day would be Jesus’ final act of faithful obedience to his Father’s will. He was calling the little band of friends accompanying him to imitate his faithfulness “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
To do this, they must remain united with him. “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.” The person who remains united with him, Jesus says, “will bear much fruit.”
“My Father is the vine grower,” Jesus says. He cares for the branches of his vine in two ways: by pruning those that bear fruit, and by cutting off and burning the unfruitful branches. Jesus’ words about these unfruitful branches being thrown into a fire and burned are an implied reference to Judas, who was even then betraying the Lord.
The vine grower’s treatment of the fruitful branches seems at first sight severe: “Every one that [bears fruit] he prunes so that it bears more fruit.” The image, easily understood by Jesus’ hearers, who were familiar with vineyards and grapes, is that of a gardener pinching off the new green shoots on a vine, so that all the growth can be concentrated in the few early blooming branches which the gardener has selected to bear fruit.
Faced in life with setbacks, injustice, or suffering -- as all of us are, at some time or other -- which one of us has not asked: “Why me? What have I done to deserve this?” Jesus’ words in today’s gospel do not answer these questions. Instead his words challenge us to view setbacks, injustice, and suffering as opportunities to grow. He is inviting us to submit to the vine grower's pruning, and so to glorify him by producing abundant fruit.