We’ve all driven down streets and have seen those funny looking trees that have been pruned around the electrical and telephone wires. There are all shapes and sizes, but one thing is for sure – the tree looks different! We know that the pruning has been done to make way for productivity; without the pruning, the wires could be weighted down and damaged. Without pruning, trees and bushes in our yards will get out of control. Without pruning, our rose bushes will get all gnarly and will not produce beautiful flowers.
Like the trees and roses, we all need pruning in life. In the parable of the vine and the branches, Jesus tells us that God prunes us as we go through life. He molds and forms us so we can be alive and fruitful. But that only happens if we stay attached to the vine. Jesus says that he is the true vine, and only being attached to him will give us life.
The message of Jesus challenges us, nourishes us, encourages us, and advises us. It prunes us by addressing those downfalls that can hinder us from bearing good fruit: temptations, greed, selfishness, anger, grudges, apathy. It prunes us by helping us to channel all that is life-giving into our lives and actions: selfless love, sacrifice, prayer, forgiveness, serving others. And if we take God’s Word seriously and allow ourselves to be pruned, we, too, end up looking a little different and misshapen. We don’t act like others at work or school because we choose to be caring and helpful to all; we may be laughed at because we take time for Church and prayer; the cashier at the store looks at us funny when we return too much change.
Sometimes we don’t want to be pruned and shaped by God’s Word? If Jesus is the true vine, then there must be some other false vines out there, false vines that vie for our attention. Might we sometimes be attracted – or even connected - to other vines in our life? Might other vines look to be true at times? Sometimes, we begin to become independent and our dependence on Jesus begins to slip away; we feel that we can manage fine without Jesus, but that often leads to unhappiness and helplessness. It is then that we search for the true vine again. And we are lucky. We can always be re-grafted to the true vine. We can always come back to Jesus. We do not have to be permanently cut off and thrown in the pile of withered branches to be burned.
Remain in me as I remain in you. How do we remain in Christ? “Love not in word or speech but in deed and in truth” we are told in the second reading. Love. Easy to say – hard to do. Many of us end phone calls with family or friends with “Love you” “Love you, too.” It’s almost automatic. That can be good, but it can also mean that we just take love for granted. More important than saying “love you” is doing and showing “love you” – husbands to wives, kids to parents, brothers to sisters, friends to friends. And it goes beyond those close to us.
We've heard the Gospels week after week, so we have a pretty clear picture of the love Christ calls us to. It's a love that covers all human beings, not just our cherished family and friends, and not just the attractive people, but all of those alien and broken bodies we pass on our life's journey: the poor, the lonely, the rude and the crude, the oddballs, the phonies, the arrogant, the liars, the cheats. Christ died for them all, and, like it or not, being a Christian means we're in a family that includes "them." We are called to show love – with the cup of water to those who thirst, with the word of assurance to those who are in doubt, with the comforting hug to those who are in pain, with the gift of caring to those who do not know if they are loved, with the deed of kindness to the one who is in need. All these things are things that God wants us to do, they are part of what Jesus calls the fruit of being in him.
Each of us is on our own personal journey of faith. Each of us needs to ask – am I grafted to the true vine or am I clinging to a false vine? Each of us will be pruned in different ways. And we might look a bit odd in today’s world – like those pruned trees and bushes – but we will remain full of life and hope and peace, because we remain in Him and He remains in us. And for that we sing, Alleluia!
If you have a brief faith reflection on today’s reading that you would like to share, please send it to me at email@example.com.