Maryknoll Father John McAuley looks to Scripture to understand the ways God lovingly prunes us so our lives bear fruit.
Tragedy, destruction, dislocation, abandonment; all these are increasingly present realities in every corner of our world. And encountering them repeatedly on such a ubiquitous and large scale inures us to the suffering, injury, destruction, and death that they unfailingly invite and engender, and the evil they mask. The Scripture today bathes us with an image of life and meaningfulness and hopeful purpose so that we can once again fully recognize the evil intent and effect of its opposite.
Jesus tells us that he is a vine, the vine, the good vine; a vine planted in the vineyard of the Lord. His stock is good, of the finest quality; rooted deeply in God and rooted deeply in the good humus soil of this good earth, among his fellow humans. The Father showers him abundantly with the Spirit and with graces; like the rains that fall and the sun that shines upon the earth and do not return to God void, nor until they have produced the fruit that the vinedresser is seeking.
Jesus tells us that the vinedresser prunes him. The Father lovingly prunes Jesus through his prayer, through his experiences of us, and through his fidelity to the call the Father has for him; again, so that Jesus produces the fruit that the vinedresser is seeking.
And then, as is the pattern in the Gospels, Jesus is given others into his care; others who are also the object of the Father’s love, and through whom the Father also wishes to have good fruit borne; fruit that the Father is seeking. Grafting was well known and widely practiced in Jesus’ time. And so we are grafted as branches onto this good root-stock; onto Jesus. Jesus not only is to bear fruit in and of himself, but also to nourish us in bearing fruit, because he is the good vine. It is not he alone, it is us together; “us together”, one of the fruits that the original root-stock is to bear…nourishment of the crafted branches that are to find a home in him; for he is true life.
We grafted-branches do bear fruit; fruit that the vinedresser is seeking. We bear this fruit in the vineyards of our own homes, and our faith community, and our schools, and our workplaces, and in the public square; all with and for others, others placed in our lives; all ultimately rooted in Jesus, the root-stock not only for us but for all humanity; he in whom we are anchored, who holds us all together, and through whom we come to know our own ultimate purpose: to also bear fruit; fruit that the vinedresser is seeking.
We are also told today, unambiguously, that whatever we pray for we will be given. But what does the vine himself pray for? Well, one of the first prayerful words given to us by Jesus references us: Our Father. In awareness of his being among us, he prayed for the things we all need for life, so that we be supported, and so that we all bear fruit; fruit that the Father is seeking; fruit for the Father’s purposes.
He also prayed specifically for us: Father, keep safe those you have given me. And he prayed for his own distresses and the temptations that arose within him: if this cup could pass! He prayed for his faith: but it was for this that I have been sent, so not mine, but your will be done. He prayed for fidelity in all life’s pruning so that he might bear the fruit that the Father is seeking; fruit for the Father’s purposes.
That is why we all have been given life, and why we all have been grafted and pruned: to bear fruit that the Father is seeking; fruit for the Father’s purposes. It is the Vine Himself who reveals the fruit that the Father seeks and desires: that we be one with the Father and be one with one another, so that we may have life and have it to the full! Denying anyone of this truth about themselves, cutting them off, uprooting them, making their every hope fruitless….this negates the very purpose of Life itself and denies the very basis of reality as we know it: God’s will for us and for all God’s children.
Photo: Grape vines growing at Turpan Loulan Wine Industry Company in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China. Photo by landrovermena and available via Wikimedia Commons.