……from your Pastor’s Desk
In last Sunday’s gospel reading Jesus was the good shepherd and we the sheep. Today’s image expresses an even closer relationship: a vine and its branches. This is so close a relationship that you could say it is beyond relationship; it expresses identification. “I am the vine…you the branches.” But, as I’ve found out since living in ‘wine-county’ – technically, a vine is all branches! It is not like a tree or a big shrub where you have a substantial trunk and a profusion of branches. The vine is just branches.
In using this analogy Jesus has even more clearly identified himself with us. It is obvious that a branch cut off from the vine (or from any tree or shrub) will wither. In the case of the vine, not only is the branch destroyed but the vine itself is diminished. To destroy a branch is to destroy the vine in some measure; to cut off a brother or sister in Christ is to cut off Christ.
This is also the teaching of St Paul. Christ, he said, is the head and we are the body. “We, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another” (Romans 12:4); “Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12).
A favorite word in John’s gospel and letters is ‘abide’ (or as the newer translations put it: ‘remain’): abiding/remaining in God, abiding/remaining in Christ, abiding/remaining in his word. Whichever translation you prefer – I counted its use 37 times in John. To abide/remain is not to be a visitor, it is even more than being a friend, it is to be at home.
It seems that no image can go far enough in expressing our union with Christ and God. Meister Eckhart said, “If anyone put water in a barrel, the barrel would surround the water, but the water would not be in the barrel [i.e., it would not occupy the same space as the wood of the barrel], nor would the barrel be in the water: but the soul is wholly one with God…. In spiritual things there is no separating of one from another.”
I remember a magazine article some many years ago, which proposed and answered “After affluence, what? Individualism.” It was ever only a dream, of course – one that the world is waking up from now. We in our culture pride ourselves on our ‘individualism.’ But, nobody can really be an independent individual, least of all a wealthy person. Oddly enough, wealth does tend to separate people from one another, while poverty often brings them together. But then wealth traps people in a complex financial web with other people, a very caricature of closeness. The dream of individualism is just, that, a dream – and not a very good one either. As God intended – we depend on other people in a thousand ways. Our Christian faith celebrates this and reveals its ultimate depth. Even the Persons of the Trinity depend on one another. To live, through Christ, in the heart of that mystery is our destiny.
“I am the vine, you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit…”
And that is a good thing.