Fifth Sunday of Easter | Year B
Jesus said to his disciples:
‘I am the true vine and my Father is the vinedresser.
Every branch in me that bears no fruit
He cuts away,
And every branch that does bear fruit he prunes
To make it prune even more.
You are pruned already,
By means of the word that I have spoken to you.
Make your home in me, as I make mine in you.
As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself,
But must remain part of the vine,
Neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine,
You are the branches.
Whoever remains in me, with me in him,
Bears fruit in plenty;
For cut off from me you can do nothing.
Anyone who does not remain in me
Is like a branch that has been thrown away
– He withers;
These branches are collected and thrown on the fire,
And they are burnt.
If you remain in me
And my words remain in you,
You may ask what you will
And you shall get it.
It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit,
And then you will be my disciples.’
Jesus uses the metaphor of the vine to describe our relationship with him and with one another: “I am the vine, you are the branches”. In a vine water and minerals flow through the trunk to the branches and into the leaves; the sugars from photosynthesis in the leaves flow through the branches back to the vine.
The pruning Jesus describes tends to attract our attention, perhaps because we are very aware of the lack of virtue in some parts of our lives. But the image of the vine is also about the life which flows through the vine, to the branches and from the branches.
Our unity as the branches of the vine contrasts with the prevailing societal views. Society places strong emphasis on our personal autonomy and individual rights. Each person is an individual whose links to others are primarily exterior links. In contrast the vine image describes us as linked by the life which flows within us and through us, which is the life of Christ.
In the leaves of the branches the complex process of photosynthesis creates sugars which nourish the whole vine. The life of Christ does not flow into and out of us unchanged as if we were passive pipes. We interact with that life in a kind of spiritual photosynthesis, the good products of which flow back into the vine to nourish the whole plant.
Because we are in reality very interconnected we need to take care that we do not feed into the vine products which will be harmful to others. Rumours, misinformation, gossip and hurtful remarks can spread rapidly “on the grapevine”, and damage other branches. These are unworthy of the vine that Jesus describes as himself.
At a practical level the concept of “paying it forward” implicitly recognizes that human beings are all linked through their common humanity, much as the branches of a vine are linked. “Paying it forward” is a way in which an ordinary person can make a difference. If we do something for another and that person wants to repay us, we ask them to “pay it forward” by doing a good deed for someone else instead.
Understanding and honouring our connectedness in the vine is a path to greater unity and love.