Sunday, April 29, 2018
The image of the true vine, that is, Jesus
The pressing invitation to remain in Him
in order to bear the fruit of love
John 15: 1-8
1. Opening prayer
Lord, You are! And this is sufficient for us, to live by, to go on hoping every day, to walk in this world, not to choose the wrong road of being closed and lonely. Yes, You are forever and from all time; you are constant, O Jesus! Your being is our constant gift; it is an ever ripe fruit that feeds and strengthens us in You, in Your presence. Lord, open our heart, open our being to your being; open us to life with the mysterious power of your Word. Help us to listen, to eat and savour this food for our souls, which is indispensable for us! Send us the good fruit of your Spirit so that He may bring about in us that which we read and meditate about you.
a) To place the passage in its context:
These few verses are part of the great discourse of Jesus to his disciples during that intimate moment of the last supper and they begin with verse 31, chapter 13, and proceeding up to the end of chapter 17. This passage has a very tight, deep and inseparable unity, unequalled in the Gospels and sums up the whole of Jesus' revelation in his divine life and in the mystery of the Trinity. It is the text that says that which no other text in the Scriptures is capable of saying concerning Christian life, its power, its tasks, its joys and pains, its hopes and its struggle in this world in the Church. Just a few verses, but full of love, that love to the very end that Jesus chose to live for his disciples, for us, even to this day and forever. In the strength of this love, the supreme and definitive gesture of infinite tenderness, which includes all other gestures of love, the Lord bequeaths to his disciples a new presence. A new way of being. By means of the parable of the vine and its branches and the proclamation of the wonderful verb remain, repeated several times, Jesus initiates his new story with each one of us called indwelling. He is no longer with us, because he is going back to the Father, yet he remains within us.
b) To assist us in the reading of the passage:
vv. 1-3: Jesus reveals himself as the true vine, which brings forth good fruit, excellent wine for his Father, who is the vinedresser and who reveals to us, his disciples, the braches, that we must remain united to the vine so as not to die and so as to bear fruit. The pruning, which the Father accomplishes on the branches by means of the Word, is a purification, a joy, a chant.
vv. 4-6: Jesus passes on to his disciples the secret of being able to continue to live in an intimate relationship with him; that is by remaining. As He lives in them and remains in them and is no longer external to them or with them, so also they must remain in Him, inside Him. This is the only way to be completely consoled, to be able to hold on to this life and bear good fruit, that is, love.
v. 7: Once more, Jesus bequeaths the gift of prayer in the heart of his disciples, that most precious and unique pearl, and he tells us that by remaining in Him, we can learn true prayer, the prayer that seeks insistently the gift of the Holy Spirit and knows that it will be granted.
v. 8: Once more, Jesus calls us to Himself, asks us to follow him, to be always his disciples. The remaining brings forth mission, the gift of life for the Father and for the neighbour; if we really remain in Jesus, then we shall also really remain in the midst of our brothers and sisters, as gift and as service. This is the glory of the Father.
c) The text:
1-3: "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already made clean by the word that I have spoken to you.
4-6: Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned.
7: If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you.
8: By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples.
3. A moment of silent prayer
As a branch, I now remain united to the vine, my Lord, and I abandon myself to Him, I allow myself to be overtaken by the sap of his silent and deep voice, which is like living water. Thus I remain in silence and stay close.
4. A few questions
to help me remain, to discover the beauty of the vine, Jesus; to lead me to the Father, to allow Him to take over and labour in me, certain of His good labour as loving vinedresser; and to urge me to enter into the life blood of the Spirit to meet him as the only necessary thing that I must seek untiringly.
a) "I am": it is beautiful that the passage begins with these words, which are like a song of joy, of the victory of the Lord, that He loves to sing all the time in the life of each one of us. "I am": He repeats this infinitely, every morning, every evening, at night, while we sleep, even though we are not aware of this. In fact, He really is at our disposal; He is turned towards the Father, towards us, for us. I meditate these words and not only listen to them but allow them to penetrate me, my mind, my innermost memory, my heart, all my feelings and I ruminate on and absorb his Being into my being. In this Word, I now understand that I am not, unless I am in Him and that I cannot become anything unless I remain in Jesus' being. I try to enter into the depths of my being, overcoming fear, crossing the darkness that I find there and I gather those parts of my being, of myself, that are most lifeless. I take them delicately and bring them to Jesus and I hand them over to his "I am".
b) The vine recalls to mind wine, that precious and good fruit, and also recalls to mind the covenant that nothing and no one will ever be able to break. Am I willing to remain in that embrace, in that continuous yes of my life thus woven into his? Together with the Psalmist, shall I too raise the chalice of the covenant, calling on the name of the Lord and saying to him, yes, I too love you?
c) Jesus calls his Father the vinedresser, a very beautiful term that carries all the force of the love dedicated to working the land. It expresses a bending over the earth, a drawing close of body and being, a prolonged contact, a vital exchange. This is precisely the Father's attitude towards us! However, St. Paul says: "The farmer who has done the hard work should have the first share of the harvest" (2 Tim 2: 6) and St. James reminds us "See how patient a farmer is as he waits for his land to produce precious crops" (Jas 5: 7). Will I, the land, disappoint the patience of the Father who cultivates me every day, turns me over, gets rid of the stones, nourishes me with good fertiliser and builds a hedge all round me to protect me? To whom do I give the fruits of my existence, of my heart, of my mind, of my soul? For whom do I exist, for whom do I decide and choose to live every day, every morning, when I wake up?
d) I follow the text carefully and underline two verbs, which occur frequently: "to bear fruit" and "to remain". I understand that these two realities are a symbol of life itself and are woven together, each depending on the other. Only by remaining is it possible to bear fruit and, really, the only true fruit that we as disciples can bear in this world is precisely to remain. Where do I remain every day, all day? With whom do I remain? Jesus always makes the connection of this verb with that wonderful and enormous particle: "in me". Do I console myself with these two words "in me", that is am I inside, do I live in the depth, do I dig in search of the Lord as one digs for a well (cfr. Gn 26: 18) or for treasure (Pr 2: 4), or else am I outside, always lost among the ways of this world, as far as possible from intimacy, from a relationship from contact with the Lord?
e) Twice Jesus reminds us of the reality of his Word and reveals to us that it is his Word that makes us pure and it is his Word that leads us to true prayer. The Word is proclaimed and given as a permanent presence within us. It also has the ability to remain, to make its dwelling place in our heart. However, I must ask myself, what ears do I have to listen to this proclamation of salvation and goodness, which the Lord addresses to me through his Words? Do I allow room to listen in depth to that which the Scripture speaks to me all the time, in the Law, the Prophets, the Psalms and the apostolic Writings? Do I allow the Word of the Lord to find me and overtake me in prayer, or do I prefer to trust in other words, lighter, more human and more like my words? Am I afraid of the voice of the Lord who speaks to me urgently and all the time?
5. A key to the reading
As a branch, I seek to be ever more one with my Vine, that is, the Lord Jesus. Here and now, I drink of his Word the good sap, seeking to penetrate ever deeper so as to absorb the hidden nourishment that transmits to me real life. I pay attention to the words, the verbs, the expressions Jesus uses and which recall other passages of divine Scripture and, thus, I let myself be purified.
The meeting with Jesus, the "I am"
This passage is one of the texts where this strong expression appears, an expression that the Lord addresses to us in order to reveal himself. It is wonderful to walk through the Scriptures in search of other texts similar to this one, where the Lord speaks of himself to us directly, of his deepest essence. When the Lord says and repeats infinitely in a thousand ways, with a thousand nuances "I am". He does not do so in order to annihilate or humiliate us, but only to stress forcefully his overflowing love for us, which desires to make us partake of and live that same life that belongs to Him. When He says "I am", He is also saying "You are" to each one of us, to each son and daughter who is born into this world. It is a fruitful and uninterrupted transmission of being, of essence and I do not wish to let this be in vain. I wish to welcome it and welcome it inside me. So, I follow the luminous trace of the "I am" and I try to stop at each step. "I am your shield" (Gen 15: 1), "I am the God of Abraham your father" (Gen 24: 26), "I am the Lord who led you and still leads you out of the land of Egypt" (cfr. Es 6: 6) and from the hands of every Pharaoh who will threaten your life, "I am He who heals you" (Es 15: 26). I allow myself to be enlightened by the force of these words, which fulfil the miracle they speak of; they fulfil this miracle to this day, and for me, in this lectio. Then I go on reading in the book of Leviticus where at least 50 times this affirmation of salvation is found: "I am the Lord", and I believe these words and hold on to them with my whole being, my whole heart and say: "Yes, indeed the Lord is my Lord, He and no other!" I note that the Scriptures probe ever deeper. As the journey continues, gradually, the Scriptures penetrate me and lead me to an ever more intense relationship with the Lord. In fact, the book of Numbers says: "I am the Lord and I live among the people of Israel" (Num 35: 34). "I am" is in the present, He who does not draw apart, does not turn his back to leave; it is He who cares for us from close by, from the inside, as only He can do; I read Isaiah and I receive life: 41: 10; 43: 3; 45: 6 etc.
The holy Gospel is an explosion of being, of presence, of salvation; I run through it letting John lead me: 6: 48; 8: 12; 10: 9. 11; 11: 15; 14: 6; 18: 37. Jesus is the bread, the light, the gate, the shepherd, the resurrection, the way, the truth, the life, the king; and all for me, for us, and so I want to welcome him, know him and love him, and I want to learn, through these words, to say to him: "Lord you are!" It is this "You" that gives meaning to my I that makes of my life a relationship, a communion. I know for certain that only here can I find full joy and live forever.
The vineyard, the true vine and its good fruit
God's vineyard is Israel, a beloved vineyard, a chosen vineyard, a vineyard planted on a fertile hill, in a place where the earth has been cleared afresh, hoed, freed of stones, a protected vineyard, worked, loved, large and one that God himself has planted (cfr. Is 5: 1ff; Ger 2: 21). So loved is this vineyard that the beloved has never ceased to sing the canticle of love for her; strong notes yet sweet at the same time, notes that bear true life, that go across the ancient covenant and come to the new covenant in even clearer notes. At first it was the Father who sang, now it is Jesus, but in both it is the Spirit who is heard, as the Song of Songs says: "The voice of the dove is still heard… and the vineyards spread fragrance" (Sgs 2: 12ff). It is the Lord Jesus who draws us, who takes us from the old to the new, from love to love, towards an ever stronger communion, even to identification: "I am the vine, but you too are in me". Hence it is clear: the vineyard is Israel, is Jesus, is us. Always the same, always new, always chosen and beloved, loved, cared for, protected, visited: visited by rain and visited by the Word, sent by the prophets day by day, visited by the sending of the Son, Love, who expects love, that is, the fruit. "He waited for the grapes to ripen, but every grape was sour" (Is 5: 2); in love, disappointment is always round the corner. I stop here at this reality, I look inside me, I try to discover the places where I am closed, dry, dead; why has the rain not come? I repeat this word that echoes often through the pages of the Bible: "The Lord waits…" (see Is 30: 18; Lk 13: 6-9). He wants the fruits of conversion (cfr. Mt 3: 8), as he tells us through John, the fruits of the word that hides the listening, the welcoming and the self-control, as the synoptics say (cfr. Mt 13: 23; Mk 4: 20 e Lk 8: 15), the fruits of the Spirit, as Paul explains (cfr. Gal 5: 22). He wants us "to bear fruit in every good work" (Col 1: 10), but above all, it seems to me, the Lord waits and desires "the fruit of the womb" (cfr. Lk 1: 42), that is Jesus, in whom we are truly blessed. In fact, Jesus is the seed that, dying, bears much fruit within us, in our life (Jn 12: 24) and defeats every solitude, every closure, opening us wide to our brothers and sisters. This is the real fruit of conversion, planted in the earth of our bosom; this is to become his disciples and, finally, this is the true glory of the Father.
Pruning, a joyful purification
In this passage of the Gospel, the Lord shows me another way of following Him, together with Him. It is the way of purification, of renewal, of resurrection and new life. It is hidden in the term "pruning", but I can better discover it, throw light on it thanks to the Word itself, which is the only master, the only sure guide. The Greek text uses the term "purify" to point to this action of the vinedresser in his vineyard. Certainly, it is true that he prunes, cuts with a knife sharpened by his Word (Heb 4: 12) and, sometimes, wounds us, but it is even truer that it is his love that penetrates ever deeper in us and thus purifies, washes, refines. Yes, the Lord sits as washer to purify, to make splendid and luminous the gold in his hand (cfr. Mal 3: 3). Jesus brings a new purification, the one promised for so long by the Scriptures and waited for the Messianic times. It is no longer the purification that took place by means of cult, by means of the observance of the law or sacrifices, only a temporary purification, incomplete and figurative. Jesus brings about an intimate, total purification, one of the heart and conscience, the one sung by Ezekiel: "I shall purify you of all your idols, I shall give you a new heart…When I shall have purified you from all you iniquities, I shall bring you back to your cities and your ruins will be rebuilt…" (Ez 36: 25ff. 33). I also read Eph 5: 26 e Tt 2: 14, beautiful and rich texts, which help me better enter into the light of grace of this work of salvation, of this spiritual pruning that the Father works in me.
There is a verse in the Song of Songs that can help my understanding more, it says, "This is the time for singing" (Sgs 2: 12), however, it uses a verb that means also "pruning, cutting" as well as "singing". Thus pruning is the time for singing, for joy. It is my heart that sings before and in the Word, it is my soul that rejoices for my faith, because I know that through this long but magnificent pilgrimage in the Scriptures, I too will take part in Jesus' life, I too will be united with Him, the pure, the holy, the immaculate Word and that thus united to Him I shall be washed, purified with the infinite purity of His life. Not for me alone, not in order to be alone, but to bear much fruit, to grow leaves and branches that do not wither, to be a branch together with many other braches in the vine of Jesus Christ.
6. A moment of silent prayer: Psalm 1
A meditation on the joy of one who lives by the Word and, thanks to the Word, bears fruit.
Res. Your Word is my joy, Lord!
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night. Res.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff which the wind drives away. Res.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish. Res.
7. Closing prayer
Lord, I still see the light of your Word. The healing force of your voice still rings in the depth of my being! Thank you, O my Vine, my sap. Thank you, O my dwelling where I can and wish to remain. Thank you, O my strength to do, to carry out every task; thank you my Master! You have called me to be a fruitful branch, to be fruit of your love for humankind, to be the wine that makes the heart rejoice. Lord, help me to realise this blessed and true Word of yours. Only thus can I live truly and live truly as you are and remain. Lord, let me not err so that I wish to remain a branch in your vine without the other branches, my brothers and sisters. It would be indeed the sourest and most displeasing fruit.
Lord, I do not know how to pray. Teach me Yourself and let my most beautiful prayer be my life, transformed into a bunch of grapes for the hunger and the thirst, for the joy and company of those who come to the vine, that is, You. Thank you for being the wine of Love!