Jn 15:1-8 True Fruitfulness

This is a syndicated post from Daily Meditations with Fr. Alfonse. [Read the original article...]

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter
 
Meditation by Benedict Augustine
 
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.
He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit,
and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.
You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.”

After explaining His analogy of the Good Shepherd, Jesus now discusses another one: the True Vine. God the Father has planted the vine and now tends to it; Jesus himself acts as the vine itself; and all Christian disciples function as branches of the vine. The Father desires that the vine produces fruit, so He makes sure to prune the branches to increase its produce while He cuts away altogether those branches that do not produce at all. Those branches that undergo pruning likely represent those Christians who cultivate a strict spiritual discipline so that they can better spread the gospel and bring more glory to God, thus bearing spiritual fruit. The unproductive branches probably symbolize the undisciplined disciples who worship mechanically, if they worship at all, and do almost nothing to share the gospel, whether by word or by deed, with anyone. After he removes those lifeless branches from the vine, God allows random people (false prophets, false teachers, and other minions of the devil) to collect those branches and “throw them into a fire” where “they will be burned,” which indicates that Hell awaits those who shun their duty as Christians.

When juxtaposed with the last analogy of the Good Shepherd, most Christians usually prefer thinking of that former image than this image of the True Vine. The Good Shepherd offers hope for those lost souls, emphasizing the good that awaits the believer. Jesus, the shepherd, does all the heavy lifting, even to the point of sacrificing His life, while believers, the sheep, simply answer His call and follow Him into the gate. More specifically, within this image of a shepherd and his sheep, a person who identifies himself as the sheep can imagine having a sufficient amount of autonomy. The sheep do their own walking, their own grazing, and little is expected of them except their ultimate obedience to the shepherd.

As opposed to what the Good Shepherd asks of His sheep, the Vine Grower and His True Vine ask  much more of the branches: they must produce fruit or be cut off. Not only does God want obedience from his disciples, He also wants a spiritual excellence that will lead to the conversion of others. Unlike the sheep passively grazing, the disciple must now consider possibly dieting from so much grass and asking God’s help to trim off the fatty excesses of sin and vice. Finally, that personal space that existed between the shepherd guiding and the sheep following disappears with the branch directly attached to the vine. Christ does not only guide His disciples, but completely sustains them; without Him, they wither and die.

Rather than grow discouraged at this analogy, Christians should draw inspiration and wisdom in its universal truth: all men must work and produce if they hope to live and prosper. This applies the workplace, to education, to relationships, to happiness, as well as Christian discipleship. Most people acknowledge this truth and push themselves to learn all they can so that they can maximize their output and avoid a life of mediocrity. They will endure severe trials and hardship to make certain purchases, to succeed in certain careers, or to befriend certain people. Thriving and producing fruit of some kind constitutes the greater part of most people’s lives. Jesus makes the point that if men and women can exert this much effort and make such a change in the world, they should do at least as much for the salvation of their souls, and they should at least recognize from Whom their effort and success necessarily derive. Individuals do not necessarily need to change the fact of their fruitfulness; they simply need to change their orientation, the direction and nature of their fruitfulness, away from the world toward the Holy Trinity.

St. Augustine speaks frequently on this need of properly orienting oneself, lest one should forsake salvation and wither along with the other spiritually barren branches.  Particularly, in one of his major works, On Christian Doctrine, to encourage a fruitful spiritual life, he uses the example of a sinful man who loves a famous actor and urges all his friends to love that actor too, making this his primary mission in life. The more his friends love that actor, the more he loves them; and if they detest that actor, he will try to convince them otherwise. Seeing that this man has oriented his love towards this actor, the Christian in possession of the Way, the Truth, and the Life can at least do the same for the people around him and bring them to One Who can save their souls. Naturally, he should do much more, encouraging fellow believers, and urging the complete conversion of nonbelievers, especially those close to him. God, the Vine Grower, and Christ, the Vine, will help in this effort; the Christian must simply accept Their care, and Their discipline.

Paul was the prime example of a man suffering from disorientation: he had zeal, but he lacked the care of Jesus and His Father, so he did not produce fruit. Rather, the spiritual work before his conversion produced mostly death and darkness, a kind of parasite plaguing the True Vine. Afterward, he allowed Jesus to guide his zeal, and God to trim his vices, so that he could bear abundant spiritual fruit, converting many gentiles. Ironically, Paul had to confront his former self in the men who wanted to continue to impose Mosaic Law and limit the fruitfulness of the apostles’ mission. Since the Jesus is the Vine, He must save the branches, and God Himself must prune them, not the traditions of man. The sacraments of the Catholic Church therefore signify God’s grace, the new law, whereas the ritual of circumcision signified Jewish tradition, the old law. New life had to come from Jesus, nothing less.

Once the disciple is properly attached to the True Vine, zealous to act as the extension of God’s fruitfulness, and humble before God’s discipline, he will soon witness the abundance of God’s charity. St. Theresa of Avila offers simple but timeless advice for all Christians on how achieve such fruitfulness while retaining the necessary humility required for it: “Be gentle to all and stern with yourself.”

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Fr. Alfonse (817 Posts)


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