In today’s gospel Jesus uses another image which is quite straightforward in its message. Jesus says that he is the vine. Everybody in Jesus’ time could relate to this image, because almost everyone would have had a vine in their small garden. This gave them grapes which in turn, gave them wine to gladden the heart. When Jesus said that a branch that is cut off from the main stalk does not produce fruit, he was only stating the obvious. And so it was when he said that a fruitless branch would be good for nothing and would be thrown into the fire. Simply put, a vine is expected to give fruit – something which is mentioned a number of times throughout today’s passage.
In his first letter, which is the second reading of today’s liturgy, John then tells us what this fruit is: “to love one another, just as he has commanded us”, a love that is “not in word or speech, but in truth and action”. When he told us to love one another Jesus did not mince words or sugar-coat it. He told us plainly to love each other in the same way that he loved us. Obviously, his love was not just “word or speech” but it was truly in action. He gave his life for us, without expecting us to love him first. If we take it seriously, this commandment of Jesus should shake us and make us uncomfortable. Because we all know how hard it is to love someone who does not love you or who even does something that hurts you. That is why Jesus speaks also of “pruning” when he speaks about the vine. It’s a process which might seem painful and cruel, but which is necessary for growth and for a healthier vine.
As a church-community we have recently celebrated Easter. The whole Easter story tells us that, while evil and bad things do exist, Jesus is more powerful than all of that. Listening to Jesus telling us to love like he did, we might be tempted to focus on our weaknesses, on our inability to truly love and forgive, and get discouraged. The Easter story gives us hope, because it tells us that Jesus is stronger than our sinfulness and all our weaknesses. We know from experience that on our own, trusting solely on our strengths and abilities, we cannot fulfil this commandment. Today Jesus reminds us that, while that is indeed true, united with him we can do it.
This is how we, as Christians, are expected to live. This love is the fruit expected from us, fruit which can truly gladden the heart of the world and of those around us.