“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.
He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit,
and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.”
For many years, every time this Gospel passage was read during Mass, I always became perturbed at the part where Jesus says that the Father takes away every branch in Him that does not bear fruit. For one thing, how could Jesus have branches in Him that do not bear fruit? I mean…He’s Jesus! That just didn’t make sense to me. Then, on top of that, every homily that has ever been delivered on the passage contains the same message, namely: The Father is a vindictive God, waiting to strike you down the moment you mess up. If you don’t produce fruit, you’re going to get cut off.
But have you every noticed that no matter what happens, you will get cut? Obviously, if you don’t produce fruit, you get cut. But even if you do produce fruit, you get pruned. So in other words, you still get cut.
This year, I’m so happy because my eyes have been opened to a new interpretation of this passage. As I read this Gospel, I was reminded of a time when I lived at an apartment complex where there were beautiful tall trees. There was one day where I witnessed maintenance men cutting the trees down, all the way to their stumps. I always thought that trees cut down to the stump never grow back. I was amazed therefore, to see that the trees grew back to their original heights, only a few months later. By recalling this memory, in light of this Gospel, I was consoled by the thought that the Father is not a cold tyrant waiting to strike me down but a truly loving parent who knows exactly how to discipline me so that I become great. He doesn’t over discipline me, nor does he shy away from disciplining me. There are some times when I need just a bit of pruning here and there, maybe just a dead leaf or two. But there are some times when I need to be cut down all the way to my core. Regardless of how much discipline I get, I always end up growing up even more vibrant then before because I remain in Jesus.
The branch, therefore, that remains in Jesus differs from those branches that do not remain in Him. Such branches naturally wither and become brittle, because they are not being nourished by a Source. But even then, God the Father doesn’t just throw these branches away. He collects them, gathers them up in His arms and throws them into a fire… Don’t you see?? Even withered branches can become great!! We are all called to a greater dignity because we are made in God’s image. So He pursue us and challenges us because He is faithful and will have His way in us. And so He deals with us according to our relationship with Him. If you need a bit of pruning, that’s what you’ll get. If you need to get cut down completely, that’s what you’ll get. If you need to be transformed completely from a lifeless, complacent, lukewarm soul into a blazing, zealous, fool for Christ…then that’s what you will be drawn into.
God is mercy, and ever pursues you with furious love. Don’t abuse His love and mercy for you. Don’t take His forgiveness for granted. Strive, rather, to always remain in His love. For those who remain in His love, are satisfied and want for nothing. Why? Because He, himself, says that what ever we ask in His name, He will do. He has no reason to lie.