5th Sunday of Easter (B)
Today’s Gospel sees Jesus declaring himself to be the true vine. Vines and grapes were part of the daily scenery in Palestine. And to truly live in Christ, one must give evidence of that life, and fruitfulness is the only proof. What we do declares what we are.
The Gospel today is taken from our Lord’s farewell speech at the Last Supper. In the atmosphere of the Eucharistic Celebration, the blessing and consecration of the wine perhaps called forth the allegory of the vine: I am the vine, you are the branches, Jesus said. Symbolism involving vines and vineyards can be found extensively in the Old Testament. And on the front door of the Temple of Jerusalem we find sculptured vine with grape clusters as tall as a man, a symbol of Israel, the people of God. Here Jesus wants to point out that he realizes in his own Person that totality of the election, solicitude, and means of salvation which were attributed to the people of God.
The ancient Old Testament allegory of Israel as Yahweh’s vine becomes deeply Christianized at this point. Jesus is the true vine of which the Father takes personal care, pruning the barren branches, trimming clean the fruitful. These latter are the disciples who have accepted Jesus’ life-giving word. They are invited, encouraged to abide in Jesus. Jesus uses the vine-image to tell us that Christians must live in him and let him live in them. There should be a person-to-person relationship between us and the living Lord Jesus. The comparison is striking. In Christ, God’s life flows to all who are joined to him in faith. It is an eloquent expression of the individual, personal relationship of the disciples to Jesus as the source of their life. Interpreting today’s Gospel, St. Augustine remarked that it is precisely as man that Christ is the vine. As God, one with the Father, he is the vine dresser who labors interiorly to increase the divine life within our souls.
Concretely, how do we experience Christ’s life pouring into us? How do we encounter Christ’s sacred Humanity, the cause of all God-life? In this post-Pentecostal age, the Vine of which we are branches is the Mystical Body of Jesus, that is, the Church. All Christians should realize that to be in real, full communion with Jesus, it is necessary to be vitally united with the Church, for the Church of today is the prolongation of Christ. One of the saddest facts in our modern Church is the rather frequent sentiment expressed by the young (and not so young) which goes like this: Jesus yes, the Church no! For many there is a real separation between following of Jesus and belonging to the Church. Many find it hard to associate their faith and love of Jesus with the institutional Church. It is not the structures or the organization that matter, but our relationship with Jesus and one another. For many, the structure is a stumbling block for a developing spirituality.
Our Gospel reading offers us a beautiful and powerful image of the Church as a community of faith and communion with Jesus. Rather than separating the Church from Jesus, the comparison of the vine associates individual community members with the Person of Jesus. Jesus yes; the Church no may be a common sentiment. Yet, it need not be so. The Church is called to be the historical, concrete reminder of the unbounded love of God for all peoples and creation. The Church (and the people are the Church) is called to grow in ever deeper union with Jesus. All of us are called to help make the Church more and more a community where the Spirit abides and Jesus is known and loved. In this Church our union with the eternal Vine is secured primarily through the seven sacraments, in which we either receive of Christ’s life or receive it more abundantly.