Year B – 5th Sunday of Easter

Year B - 5th Sunday of Easter

Fruitful Vines

(Acts 9:26-31; 1Jn.3:18-24; Jn.15:1-8)

Who was the very first gardener? The Bible tells us: it’s God Himself, ‘for there was no man to work the land’ (Gen.2:5).

The first time God cultivates the land is when He breathes on the ground, combining His spirit with clay to create Adam, the first man. Then He establishes the Garden of Eden and flora begins to flourish (Gen.2:8).

Among these flora are grapevines, and they appear all through the Bible.

In Genesis, Noah plants a vineyard after leaving the ark (9:20-23). In Revelation, John sees clusters of grapes in his vision of the final judgment (14:18-20). And in between, there are many appearances by the fruit of the vine, which ‘makes life merry’ (Ecc.10:19) and even comes to represent the Blood of Christ (Lk.22:20).

In today’s Gospel, Jesus reveals His knowledge of winegrowing as He teaches His disciples one last lesson before being crucified. Using the grapevine as a metaphor for life (cf. Ps.80:8-9), He says: ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that bears no fruit He cuts away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes to make it bear even more.’

He’s reminding us that we’re all part of something much bigger than ourselves, and that we’re all connected to God and each other through a metaphorical vine, which is Jesus Himself.

Jesus knows that wild grapevines never produce good fruit. That’s because when leaves take over, they block the sun and steal the nutrition. This results in smaller and fewer grapes which are likely to taste bitter.

To encourage good fruit, winegrowers cut these leaves back and stretch out their vines on trellises. Soft, loose branches produce no grapes, so they are pulled and stretched to strengthen them. And to produce bumper harvests, they prune their vines regularly, removing dead and unhealthy branches to avoid diseases, and letting the sun in promotes new growth.

Our lives are like that. If we are untamed, we are likely to grow in unhealthy ways that sap our energy and we end up producing either bitter or no fruit at all.

But when we’re attached to Jesus’ vine, when we’re properly stretched and trained and pruned of unhealthy growth, and exposed to bright spiritual sunshine, then we’re likely to produce lots of wonderful fruit.

And what is this fruit? St Paul tells us: it’s the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal.5:22-23).

It’s about each of us becoming the best person we can be. But that requires us to stay attached to Jesus, for as He says, ‘cut off from me you can do nothing.’

So, how are we first grafted onto Jesus? Through our Baptism.

That’s how we become branches of His vine. But to grow and thrive we need to stay connected to Jesus and keep drawing nourishment from Him.

That’s what happens to Paul in today’s first reading. After persecuting Christians, he receives the Holy Spirit at his conversion (Acts 9:10-21). Thereafter, he maintains his connection with Jesus and he becomes remarkably fruitful, even today.

And how do we stay connected to Jesus’ vine? John tells us in our second reading. He says: ‘Those who keep His commandments remain in Him, and He in them…’ John then spells out what it means to keep these commandments: ‘we should believe in the name of Jesus Christ, and love one another just as He commanded us.’

So, here’s the point: as Christians, we are all expected to bear fruit. After all, that’s what vines are for. But if a branch produces nothing, there’s a problem. It’s either dead, diseased, or poorly connected to the vine, and the vinedresser will cut it off.

And even if a branch is healthy and bears good fruit, sometimes it still needs to be trimmed to make it stronger and more productive. We need to remember this when we’re going through hard times, for God does cut us back from time to time to strengthen us and make us more fruitful.

This might be painful, but God is trying to shape us and help us become better people (Heb.12:4-11).

George Bernard Shaw

Let’s close with a little story. Towards the end of his life, the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw was asked, ‘If you could live your life over again and be anyone you chose, who would you be?’

He thought for a moment and said, ‘I’d choose to be the man George Bernard Shaw could have been, but never was.’

He regretted not being more fruitful.

What about you?