Commentary on John 15:1-8
Perhaps there are some of us who have never seen a vine (although we may be well versed in our wines!). But what Jesus says about the vine – a plant very common in Palestine – can be said about any fruit-bearing tree that we are familiar with and the message is clear.
The vine is an image we find elsewhere in the Old Testament. Jesus uses it as a symbol of the Kingdom of God; all who belong to the Kingdom are part of the vine. The fruit of the vine can also be understood of the Eucharistic celebration. It also represents a life lived according to the vision of Jesus, a life filled with unconditional love.
Jesus is explaining to us what our relationship with him can be like and indeed should be like. He compares himself to a tree, basically to the trunk of the tree. The cultivator of the tree, the one who gives it life, is the Father God. Jesus’ disciples are the branches.
It is the branches which bear the fruit.
If a branch does not bear fruit, it is simply cut off. It is no good; it is just draining life from the trunk without giving anything in return. It is very easy for us to be that kind of Christian. We come to church in search of “handouts” but give very little back to the community.
But, even the branches which do bear fruit, are pruned, have parts cut off, so that they will bear even more. Those who cultivate fruit trees or roses are familiar with this process and know how important it is.
What does this pruning consist of? Jesus explains: “You are pruned already, by means of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide, stay in me, as I abide and stay in you.” We are pruned, then, by our total identification with everything that Jesus stands for and by constantly cutting out of our lives everything that is contrary to the spirit of Jesus.
This involves a certain kind of asceticism, a denying of some of our natural appetites. This becomes easy as we are more and more overtaken by the vision of life that Jesus offers to us. We give up those non-Christlike things gladly and willingly. It becomes our deepest happiness and even pleasure to be always in Christ.
It is clear from what Jesus says that only those branches which are connected to the trunk can bear fruit. “Cut off from me you can do nothing.” Without fruit we are dead branches but, on the other hand, the fruit is not just of our own making. It is the sign that Christ is working in us and through us.
The most outstanding fruit of all is, of course, the love we reveal in our relationships with God and with people. “By this will all know that you are my disciples, that you have love one for another.”
Separated from Christ – always the result of our own choice – we are like a branch that has fallen from the tree. We wither. Such “branches are collected and thrown on the fire, and they are burnt”. Such separation is not physical. It is a separation of identity. It comes from rejecting or refusing to accept the Way of Jesus as our way of life. It is a rejection of life and the choice of alternatives which can only lead to decay and death.
Finally, there is the great promise. “If you remain in me and my words remain in you,
you may ask what you will and you shall get it.”
This is not to be interpreted as some kind of blank cheque, such as asking to win the first prize in a lottery or to have one’s enemy wiped out or to be cured of a terminal sickness.
The promise is prefaced by an important and essential condition: we need to be IN Christ and to have our lives totally guided by his “words”, that is, his teaching, his vision of life. And, if we are with him, our prayer inevitably will be to be more deeply rooted in him. Because he is the Source of all life and all Meaning in life.