Last Sunday we came across one of the famous ‘7 I AM’ sayings of Jesus which appear in John’s version of the GOSPEL. TODAY’S EXTRACT [JOHN 15: 1 – 8] records a second – “I am the true vine ….” In brief we need to remind ourselves of John’s frequent use of the number 7. In biblical terms the number indicates completeness, totality and perfection. So, if you make a list (a passing challenge!?) of all seven you will discover a holistic and perfect picture of WHO Jesus Christ is, and WHAT he is able to BE and DO for each one of us.

However, there is a real connection between last Sunday’s cornerstone and today’s vine. Today’s Jesus proclaims that “apart from me you can do nothing.” It should be easy to see the analogy between this teaching and the consequences of rejecting the cornerstone.

There is an important addition made by our Gospel verses. Not only is Jesus the stone on which we help him to build further but we are the branches of the vine. Jesus proclaims a second time that “I am the vine” but now adds “you are the branches.” Two truths emerge from this. Firstly, branches draw from the trunk. They have no life apart from the trunk. Then the branches have a clear and defined purpose – to produce fruit. Branches are expected to show the results of being joined to the trunk. But “the branch cannot bear fruit by itself.” The real crunch comes with the words – “… you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples.”

First the crunch, then comes the chop! Once we begin producing the Lord actually rejoices. He also recognises the potential which each one of us enjoys. So he prunes. He cuts because he calls for more – little by little. First of all it is important that we do not sell ourselves short. Too often we excuse ourselves from further development as productive branches of the vine because we have convinced ourselves there really is nothing further we are able to contribute. Indeed, there are too many passive Christian-Catholics. Unfortunately this leads many to become armchair critics – disguised by the projection of being truly orthodox, loyal and faithful. What has been forgotten is that “the branch cannot bear fruit by itself.” Those who find themselves in this position need to be wary that they do not, in fact, lose out and find themselves not only troubled in their hearts but also deny themselves the life that comes from the vine itself. “Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away,”

There is more to this picture than a brutal throwing away. Rather, we encounter a situation where an individual creates a barrier to the full hearted reception of the life that comes from the trunk. He or she has stopped building with the cornerstone. There is a graphic description in Isaiah 5 which talks about the production of sour grapes!?

Jesus affirms that “my Father is the vinedresser.” Therefore I myself am distinctly uncomfortable with the notion that the Father ever throws anyone away. However, there are times when necessary pruning must be both recognised and invited

We have to move from being warehouses and stockrooms in order to become factories. The Lord is never finished with us, “The vine survives the trimming of the branches, but the branches do not survive without the vine.” {Transforming Word: Page 95} We have to prove that we are Jesus’ disciples .This is why the Father prunes us. He wants us to produce the proof. In so many ways Christians have to define themselves as branches attached to Jesus the vine. In addition we are able to challenge ourselves by regularly naming the fruit we produce in this relationship. This activity, like the Beatitudes, could become profitable examination of conscience.

What should not be overlooked in today’s Gospel extract is the clear expression of the Father’s anxious concern for the health of his vine. We must never forget or ignore this concern for us. Today’s SECOND READING [1JOHN 3: 18 – 24] makes it clear that we should not be discouraged by our failures. Sometimes these can induce a feeling of rejection and hopelessness. “God is greater than our hearts” – feelings- “he knows everything.” Therefore, “we have confidence before God.” A little pruning can produce wonders – expect it, invite it!

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