“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. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” (John 15:1-8)
Jesus uses several vivid images to describe Himself in John’s gospel. Earlier He has described Himself as the Good Shepherd and the Light of the World. John the Baptist declared Him to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and the apostle John, in his prologue to the gospel, says Jesus is the eternal Word of God.
In the Last Supper Discourse, Jesus calls Himself the True Vine, and we are His branches. It is the branches that bear the fruit, which are the good works that God is calling us to do. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said we would be able to distinguish false prophets from true ones by their fruits. Here He is emphasizing that we cannot bear good fruit if we are disconnected from the true vine, that is, from Jesus. This is a powerful reminder that everything we do should be motivated by our love for Jesus. This is sometimes the most challenging in our most difficult tasks, and at other times in the most routine. This is also a rebuttal to the secular world that says you can be a good person no matter what you believe. Jesus says otherwise: our love is a product of our faith. We believe in Him, we have our hope in Him, and guided by our faith and inspired by our hope we show His love to the world, to lead others to Him and give glory to His name.
“As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:9-13)
Jesus loves us just as much as His Father loves Him. And He tells us how we can remain (some translations use the word “abide,” which may convey the sense even better) by loving one another as He has loved us. Jesus willed to give up everything He had for us, to suffer unimaginably for our sakes’ so that we might be saved. Now we are invited to share in the love that He shares with His Father, by loving our neighbors and drawing them into the circle of trinitarian love. Jesus did not presume that we know what love is. He told us what it is, and then He lived it to the end on the Cross.
What does it mean to abide in the Lord’s love? Saint Faustina, in her last diary entry, when she was suffering greatly, wrote, “I am thoroughly enwrapped by God. My soul is being inflamed by His love. I only know that I love and am loved. That is enough for me.” (Diary, 1828)
“You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another.” (John 15:14-17)
It is always God who takes the initiative. Jesus calls us. Jesus seeks us out, and invites us to follow Him in faith. He has appointed each of us for a particular mission that will bear fruit if we remain in His love. We like to think we are in control of our lives. Jesus invites us to recognize the depth of His love for us, understand that He is in control, and rather than opposing Him by following our own will, surrender to His will, which is to say, His love. When we do we this, His joy will be in us, and our joy will be complete. Love and joy are inseparably linked. Hate and joy are diametrically opposed.
“If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first.” (John 15:18)
Jesus reminds the apostles of the opposition He has encountered, which will continue during their ministry. Jesus elaborates on this point with Saint Faustina: “It is because you are not of this world that the world hates you. First it persecuted Me. Persecution is a sign that you are following in My footsteps faithfully” (Diary, 1487). When we share the gospel with others, some will receive it with joy, some with interest. Many will be indifferent, and some will respond with scorn. It is our mission to share the good news of Jesus with everyone we meet. God invites all to the feast. He alone knows who will accept the invitation, and for that matter, when they will accept it. The seeds God plants will bear fruit at the right time.
“When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me. And you also testify, because you have been with me from the beginning.” (John 15:26-27)
Image: The Last Supper by Tintoretto (downloaded from Wikipedia Commons).