5th Sunday of Easter
April 29, 2018
The Lord’s image of the vine and the branches is familiar to anyone who gardens (John 15:1-8). Many plants need to be pruned regularly to control their growth and increase their fruitfulness. The raspberries growing by the rectory are a good example of this: the older shoots will not produce much, so they must be cut away to allow the new shoots, those that will bear fruit, to grow.
God the Father is the master gardener; the Lord is the vine; we are the branches. One thing we can expect for sure in this life is that God will be pruning us! There are two kinds of pruning the Lord mentions: he cuts away completely those branches that do not bear fruit, and he prunes those who are bearing fruit so that they will produce more.
Some branches are all leaves and no fruit: they look good, but there is nothing under the surface. Many judge themselves by the wrong standards: by how they look, what they own, how important their job is, how much authority they have, or how healthy they are at the moment. All of these things are leaves on the branch: they glorify the branch. We are given these things in order to bear fruit. What our Lord is looking for is fruitfulness. A branch that only cares for itself is a branch full of leaves.
A fruitful branch is one that does something. To be fruitful is to have a life that includes acts of kindness and selflessness for others. Saint Paul lists some of the ways that we know we are producing fruit in Galatians: we will see love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, self-control, chastity.
Branches that exist only for themselves-–all leaves and no fruit—are, in the end, worthless, and are thrown on the fire to be burnt. But God also prunes the branches that do bear fruit so that they will produce more. How does this happen? He prunes us by means of the Word he has spoken: in other words, through the Scriptures. Listening to and being challenged by the Word of God has the effect of allowing God to prune us of our unfruitfulness.
God also prunes us by means of sufferings: misfortunes, contradictions, losses, illnesses, humiliations, setbacks and other difficulties. Although such losses are very painful, they also enable new growth to occur, which would not have taken place without the sufferings that preceded them. Through such images as these our Lord helps us to understand the events of our lives and their true significance.