The Vineyard

This comparison of the chosen people with a vine was used in the

Old Testament: Psalm 80 speaks of the uprooting of the vine in Egypt

and its re-planting in another land; and in Isaiah’s Song of the Vineyard

(5:1-7) God complains that despite the care and love He has lavished

on it, His vineyard has yielded only wild grapes.  Jesus previously used

this imagery in His parable about the murderous tenants (Matthew

21:33-43) to signify the Jew’s rejection of the Son and the calling of

the Gentiles.  But here the comparison has a different, more personal

meaning: Christ explains that He Himself is the true vine, because the

old vine, the original chosen people, has been succeeded by the new

vine, the Church, whose head is Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:9).  To be

fruitful one must be joined to the new, true vine, Christ: it is no longer a

matter of simply belonging to a community but of living the life of Christ,

the life of grace, which is the nourishment which passes life on to the

believer and enables him to yield fruits of eternal life.  This image of the

vine also helps understand the unity of the Church, Christ’s mystical

body, in which all the members are intimately united with the head and

thereby are also united to oneanother (1 Corinthians 12:12-26; Romans

12:4-5; Ephesians 4:15-16).

 

2. Our Lord is describing two situations: that of those who, although

they are still joined to the vine externally, yield no fruit; and that of

those who do yield fruit but could yield still more.  The Epistle of St.

James carries the same message when it says that faith alone is not

enough (James 2:17).  Although it is true that faith is the beginning of

salvation and that without faith we cannot please God, it is also true

that a living faith must yield fruit in the form of deeds.  “For in Christ

Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith

working through love” (Galatians 5:6).  So, one can say that in order

to produce fruit pleasing to God, it is not enough to have received

Baptism and to profess the faith externally: a person has to share

in Christ’s life through grace and has to cooperate with Him in His

work of redemption.

 

Jesus uses the same verb to refer to the pruning of the branches as

He uses to refer to the cleanness of the disciples in the next verse:

literally the translation should run: “He cleanses him who bears fruit

so that he bear more fruit”.  In other words, He is making it quite

clear that God is not content with half-hearted commitment, and

therefore He purifies His own by means of contradictions and

difficulties, which are a form of pruning, to produce more fruit.  In this

we can see an explanation of the purpose of suffering: “Have you not

heard the Master Himself tell the parable of the vine and the branches?

Here we can find consolation.  He demands much of you for you are

the branch that bears fruit.  And He must prune you ‘ut fructum plus

afferas”: to make you bear more fruit’.

 

“Of course: that cutting, that pruning, hurts.  But, afterwards, what

richness in your fruits, what maturity in your actions” ([St] J. Escriva,

“The Way”, 701).

 

3. After washing Peter’s feet Jesus had already said that His Apostles

were clean, though not all of them (cf. John 13:10).  Here, once more,

He refers to that inner cleansing which results from accepting His

teachings.  “For Christ’s word in the first place cleanses us from errors,

by instructing us (cf. Titus 1:9) [...]; secondly, it purifies our hearts of

earthly affections, filling them with desire for Heavenly things [...];

finally, His word purifies us with the strength of faith, for `He cleansed

their hearts by faith’ (Acts 15:9)” (St. Thomas Aquinas, “Commentary

on St. John, in loc.”).

 

4-5. Our Lord draws more conclusions from the image of the vine and

the branches.  Now He emphasizes that anyone who is separated from

Him is good for nothing, like a branch separated from the vine.  “You see,

the branches are full of fruit, because they share in the sap that comes

from the stem.  Otherwise, from the tiny buds we knew just a few months

back, they could not have produced the sweet ripe fruit that gladdens the

eye and make the heart rejoice.  Here and there on the ground we may

find some dry twigs, lying half-buried in the soil.  Once they too were

branches of the vine; now they lie there withered and dead, a perfect

image of barrenness: `apart from Me, you can do nothing’” ([St] J.

Escriva, “Friends of God”, 254).

 

The life of union with Christ is necessarily something which goes far

beyond one’s private life: it has to be focused on the good of others;

and if this happens, a fruitful apostolate is the result, for “apostolate,

of whatever kind it be, must be an overflow of the interior life” ([St] J.

Escriva, “Friends of God”, 239).  The Second Vatican Council, quoting

this page from St. John, teaches what a Christian apostolate should be:

“Christ, sent by the Father, is the source of the Church’s whole

apostolate.  Clearly then, the fruitfulness of the apostolate of lay people

depends on their living union with Christ; as the Lord Himself said: `He

who abides in Me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart

from Me you can do nothing’.  This life of intimate union with Christ in

the Church is maintained by the spiritual helps common to all the faithful,

chiefly by the active participation in the Liturgy.  Laymen should make

such a use of these helps that, while meeting  their human obligations

in the ordinary conditions of life, they do not separate their union with

Christ from their ordinary life; but through the very performance of their

tasks, which are God’s will for them, actually promote the growth of\

their union with Him” (“Apostolicam Actuositatem”,4).

 

6. If a person is not united to Christ by means of grace he will

ultimately meet the same fate as the dead branches–fire.  There is a

clear parallelism with other images our Lord uses–the parables of the

sound tree and the bad tree (Matthew 7:15-20), the dragnet (Matthew

13:49-50), and the invitation to the wedding (Matthew 22:11-14), etc.

Here is how St.  Augustine comments on this passage: “The wood of

the vine is the more contemptible if it does not abide in the vine, and

the more glorious if it does abide….For, being cut off it is profitable

neither for the vinedresser nor for the carpenter.  For one of these only

is it useful–the vine or the fire.  If it is not in the vine, it goes to the fire;

to avoid going to the fire it must be joined to the vine” (“In Ioann.

Evang.”, 81, 3).

 

Reflection from “The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries”

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