MAY 14, 2006- 5th SUNDAY OF EASTER: JOHN 15:1-8

I AM THE TRUE VINE AND MY FATHER IS THE VINE DRESSER. This image of the vine to stress the need for total dependence on Jesus as the one font of spiritual fruitfulness has justly served from early times as a source of spiritual strength for the faithful. The fact that our Lord so incorporates us into himself so that the grace which gives life to our spirit flows from his own person has been, and remains, an unfailing encouragement and stimulus to a life of intimate prayer. It provides the inner conviction needed for fidelity because it assures us of a personal and ongoing union with the risen Lord. At the same time this parable of the vine makes it clear that we cannot be united with the Lord Jesus without sharing his life with one another. We are not to live out our discipleship alone; we have as companions those who share this same blessing and whose lives add meaning and support to us. In the mystical vine every branch, each member, receives its sustenance from the one living source that is Christ, and each has the promise of being united with those who are companions on the spiritual journey not only in the present but also for all eternity.

Warm appreciation of the imagery of the vine was widespread already in very early times where the Gospel was preached and accepted. The popularity of the vine in early Christian art witnesses to the value for the spiritual life of the revelation of intimacy with the Savior that this image so effectively conveyed. If at certain periods of history other images of the Church came to dominance, the mystical vine was less prominent this teaching was never altogether forgotten. Before long it would revive and give strong stimulus to praise and gratitude as its significance brought into loving awareness Jesus’ presence in his members and so impart fresh life to the faithful. This same rhythm is echoed in the Church’s year. If, during Advent, Christmas and Lent we focus on other aspects of the great mystery of redemption, at this Easter season, when the vines of the woods set out their shoots, promising new growth in the months to come, this symbol of new life is brought to our attention by this lively parable recorded by St. John in the context of the Last Discourse, pronounced on the eve of the enactment of the Paschal mystery.

There is, however, a rather surprising feature to this text. Directly after using this figure of the vine and pointing out that the Father cleanses every shoot of the vine that it might bear more fruit, Jesus changes his imagery.. He inserts this phrase:"Already you are clean by virtue of the word I have spoken to you." Only then does he continue with the statement consistent with the symbol of the vine by adding: "Abide in me and I will abide in you." This is the only time our Lord awkwardly mixes the images he uses in a parable, as far as I am aware. I do not know of any one who has commented on this fact, but I find it rather intriguing. Did St. John himself insert this reference to the cleansing power of Jesus’ words? Or was the text overloaded in this way by a rather heavy-handed editor with more concern for a theological point than for literary refinement and elegance of expression?

In any case, it is an inspired text and the point it makes is certainly loaded with spiritual significance for all of us. John represents Jesus as assuring us, on the night before he gave himself up for our salvation, that "Already you are clean by virtue of the word I have spoken to you." To hear Jesus’ words with faith, to take them into the heart is to be purified in the inner self; it is to become acceptable to the Father. Words spoken by our Lord are more than a source of revelation of hidden mysteries: they are a source of reconciliation with the Father. They impart the fullness of life by making us clean in the eyes of the Father. Gregory the Great, the favorite teacher of the early Cistercian monks, had come to understand this truth and it caused him to read the Sacred Text with a particular intensity of application that opened hidden meanings to his spirit and led to an intensified desire that made of him a contemplative in action. One day in replying by letter to a benefactor he had come to know in his days as the Pope’s Representative to the Emperor in Constantinople, the busy physician to the court, he advised him to cut back on his activities and take out time for his spiritual life. He should make time for spiritual reading. He then adds these words: "Learn the heart of God in the words of God, that you might the more ardently aspire after eternal things and that your mind might be set afire with desire for heavenly joys."

God reveals more than knowledge of himself through the words of Scripture. He reveals his very heart; more, gives us what is dearest to himself: his own Son. In the words of Christ we receive the life flowing from the heart of Christ that wells up to life everlasting in the loving presence of the Father. May we make these words our own and, being cleansed by them, speak them in praise to the Lord of heaven and earth, and with gratitude share them with our neighbor.

 

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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