Most of us do not think of ourselves as deadwood. We would like to think that we are vibrant, committed, and faith-filled contributors to the Kingdom of God. When Jesus uses the image of a vine with strong and healthy life-bearing branches we like to think that he is describing us. I could not possibly be a lifeless barren twig sapping energy from the vine, could I?
Even if that were the case, we are inclined to think that the vinedresser – God – would nurture us back to health. The all-merciful benevolent God would not ever prune away dead branches and cast them off, right?
In the parable that Jesus tells us this Sunday he very clearly warns us against becoming a barren twig on a vibrant vine. We must be alive – and bear fruit if we are to be a disciple and have a share in the life that he offers to us.
Naturally we wonder what it is that we need to do in order to remain filled with life and not grow dim and wither. Our Second Reading, that from the First Letter of John, gives us a clear vision of what is expected of us: “Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence in God and receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And his commandment is this: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us. Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them, and the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit he gave us.”
To be a life-giving branch is to follow the commandment that Jesus gives us.
First, we are to never lose sight of Jesus. We become fruitful as we remain faithful to Jesus and acknowledge him as the source of our life and as the end of our life. We do so, however, not merely with heart and mind. This is no intellectual or private journey. We are instructed to love one another as Jesus has commanded us. This first requires that we dig deeper into the scriptures in order to find the specifics of this commandment. At the Last Supper as recounted in the Gospel According to John, Jesus says plainly: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
This commandment stretches us. It demands that we go outside of ourselves and to love. It is interesting that John would hearken back to this verse (of course, the same author wrote both the Gospel and this Letter). We know that Jesus also repeated the command of Leviticus to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. However, this commandment of Jesus in John’s Gospel challenges us to love the other as Jesus loves us.
This takes the commandment to love to another dimension. No longer do I reflect on myself as the standard of love, instead it is the love of Jesus that compels us.
Jesus laid down his life. He loved us with the totality of love itself – the perfect and complete self-sacrifice. We never ask – and I have never heard asked – if Jesus loved and he loved himself. The love that Jesus demands of us comes in and through his love.
This commandment then is for us life-changing. We focus on self-sacrifice for the other. No longer can I treat love as an intellectual exercise or as an emotional satisfaction. Love demands giving; giving of self in service to one another.
In order to be a fruitful branch, then, we must be alive with love of God and love for neighbor. To be alive is to be loving. We can only bear fruit, then, when we love as Jesus loves.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.[[In-content Ad]]