Commentary on the Readings: Phil 3:7-11,17-21; Ps 128; John 15:1-5
The Gospel reading speaks of the unity of Jesus with his disciples, expressed in the image of a vine with the central trunk, the branches and the fruit. In the Old Testament Israel is sometimes spoken of as a vineyard, for instance, in Isaiah 5:7, where the prophet says, “The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel and the people of Judah are his cherished plant.” In Matthew’s gospel we read the parable of the wicked tenants in the vineyard. When the master sent his servants to collect the harvest, they were set upon one by one until the son was sent. “They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard and killed him” – a clear reference to the fate of Jesus.
Israel is also spoken of as a vine as in Psalm 80 where we read: “Once again, O Lord of hosts, look down from heaven, and see; Take care of this vine and protect what your right hand has planted.” Or in Jeremiah, “I had planted you, a choice vine of fully tested stock; How could you turn out obnoxious to me, a spurious vine?” And also in Ps 80 there is the identification of the vine with ‘the son of man’. In the book of Sirach, Wisdom describes herself as a vine, “I bud forth delights like the vine; my blossoms become fruit fair and rich.” And there are eucharistic overtones as when Jesus, after blessing the bread and cup at the Last Supper, says, “I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the Kingdom of God” (Mark 14:25).
In today’s reading, it is clear that the vine represents Jesus himself and his Father is the one who plants the vine and makes it grow. His disciples are the branches. “I AM the Vine, you are the branches.” And he continues, “Whoever remains in me and I in them will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.” Earlier in the passage he says that any branch which does not bear fruit will be taken away and even those which do will be pruned so that they can bear even more. The secret to bearing fruit is to be intimately united with the vine.
This passage relates very much to Andrew Bobola who in his life suffered so greatly and eventually gave his life. He was a branch which drew its life from the Vine of his Lord and underwent a great deal of pruning in the form of persecution and suffering. We can look on suffering as punishment or as not being consonant with a loving God but the Scriptures make it plain that it is through pain and setbacks that we grow. A life where everything goes our way leads to nowhere. Hedonism and pleasure are not the ways to happiness.
This is beautifully put in the First Reading which is from Paul’s Letter to the Christians at Philippi. For him Christ is the pearl of great price for which it is worth sacrificing pearls of lesser value. “I consider everything as loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish – that I may gain Christ.” And Paul was a person who, in his missionary work, endured a great deal of suffering. In the Second Letter to the Christians at Corinth, he lists some of them. But it all brought him closer to Jesus so that he could tell the Galatians, “I am alive. No! It is not I but Christ who lives in me.”
These words could have been uttered by Andrew Bobola who also endured appalling suffering in his mission to bring the Gospel of Christ to his people. We can learn a lot from both of them.