The true vine (Jesus), the branches (the church) and the vinedresser (the Father)
Let us make use of the wonderful image of the “vine” and analyze it in depth. Jesus identifies himself as the “true vine” and addresses his disciples -the Church- as the “branches”. He also calls his Father the roll of the vine grower.
To bear fruit: love, joy and completeness
In this parable, Jesus emphasizes the “fruit” each branch of the vine can bear. Vines bring forth grapes and usually most of them are used to produce wine. Wine, therefore, is the result of the work of the vinedresser and his co-workers, contributors or employees; but that work depends on the quantity and quality of the grapes that the branches can bear. Furthermore, such quantity and quality of fruits depend on the vine grower’s work, mainly on the place or piece of land he chooses to plant the vine and on the ability to take care of it so that every branch can bring forth the best and most suitable fruit.
In the Gospels, especially in John’s Gospel, the vine symbolizes the new life of the new covenant: abundant love, joy and communion. Please remember that according to John, the first miracle worked by Jesus took place at Cana of Galilee, where he transformed water into wine during a wedding.
So the fruit is not only the grapes that each branch of the vine can bear, but also the wine that all branches of the vine together, and with the vinedresser’s work, can produce. This new wine produced is an abundant life of joy and communion. The need we have to love and to be loved, the desire of unending joy which arises in any human being is apparently possible. But some requirements are needed.
The main requirements to live in the way of complete love and joy
To live in community
The first requirement is to accept this analogy as a way of living in communion with others. Complete joy and true love can only be the result of living with others as branches live together in a vine. The only way we can manage to find true joy and love is to live in community and resign to an individualist way of living. The branches of a vine are called to bring forth all the grapes they can. Some of them will bear a few grapes, others a large number of grapes. Some of them will produce grapes of extraordinary quality, while others only simple grapes. But in the end, the fruit of each branch is attached to the fruit of the other branches. It is useless to bear some good grapes if my neighbour’s branches can’t produce any at all. What kind of wine can the vine grower produce if most of the branches of the vine are infertile?
For current Christians, living in community, tight as the branches in a vine, is the only way to find a joyful and loving life. But living in community means to be involved not only in our Church but also in the world. This should be translated in political and social commitments, in studies and investigations to contribute to the development of poor people and countries, in research to discover the cure for incurable illnesses, in creating and playing uplifting music, etc.
To remain in the vine
The second requirement is to remain in the vine. As we are like branches and Jesus is the true vine, we are called to abide “in him”. Jesus insists on this: “remain in me and I in you… as the branch remains in the vine… If you remain in me you can bear fruit”; “whoever remains in me and I in him bears much fruit”. But how can we remain “in” a person? Jesus seems to explain it: “remain in my Words”, “remain in my command… to love as I have loved you”… “remain in my Love so that my Joy may be in you and your joy may be complete”.
If we do not abide in the vine (in him) we cannot bear fruit by ourselves. Apart from him, from this vine, we can do nothing and we, as useless branches, will be cut down and thrown aside. This image suggests that despite our skills and strengths, if we do not receive the sap (life, vitality) of this wine, we won’t be able to achieve God’s Joy and new life. We won’t be able to receive what he is giving us and hence, we’ll be apart not only from his Joy but from our completeness too.
To remain, in the Gospel of John, is not a static but a dynamic verb. To remain, linked with this botanic analogy, means to take root gradually in our life, to go through different seasons and be patient (biological ages, states of mind and faith, economic and political cycles, etc.), to bring forth a lot of fruit one year and few or none the next one, to take interest in other branches, to trust the vine grower and his collaborators and to be fed and vitalized by the sap. Without this permanence in the vine, in Jesus, it’s not possible to bear fruit neither to enjoy what that fruit can produce: wine, this means, a new life of joy and love.
To be pruned
The third requirement to receive and live in this joy and love is to be pruned. As Jesus makes emphasis on the fruit the branches will bear if they abide in the vine, he also refers to the branches’ pruning: “every branch that does bear fruit, the vine grower prunes, so that it will produce more fruit”. The aim of pruning plants is not to hurt them but to keep them fit for flourishing. However, when a branch is pruned, it looks like useless or even dead. Is this not the feeling that we have when we lose something or someone important for us, or when we have to give up something or someone that we really desire or love? When this happens, we should remain in the vine to stay alive, to be fed by the sap and to flourish new fruits in due time or season, perhaps better than ever in quality or even in quantity.
The glory of the vinedresser, Jesus and our Father, is that we, branches of the vine of his Son, bear fruits of love and joy. By living in communion with Christ and with all human beings, committed to the weakest branches, by remaining in Jesus’ love and receiving the sap and vitality of his Holy Spirit, and by allowing the vine grower to prune us so that we can bear much fruit, we will be able to love as Jesus have loved us and our joy may be complete.