The true vine...

Published on 30 Apr 2021
A vineyard at sunset

Some fires are burning brightly in a vineyard.  These blazes are protecting new growth from frost.  We know that the Lord who looks forward to the grape-harvest does not want there to be unnecessary losses. The fires amid the vines are a reminder of his protective care.  Some branches are collected and thrown on the fire and they are burnt [1].  The destruction by fire of withered branches is an important image of what it is like to be cut off from Christ. He tells us of himself: I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser [2].  We can be abundantly fruitful branches growing from him, or, on the contrary, we can wither because of not remaining in him. To be grafted onto Jesus is to flourish.  To be cut off from him is to be desiccated and lifeless. Every branch in me that bars no fruit, he, the Father, cuts away [3].   Once withered, branches might as well be destroyed.  This destruction is presented to us as a warning.  We contemplate the withering and burning of branches which have become separated from the true vine and hope to avoid such destruction.  Seeing what happens if we lose our connection to the Lord, we resolve to allow our link with him to be strengthened.   How useful and timely are the fires in the vineyard if they prompt us to grow closer and closer to our saviour and to remain in him

Cold spring nights threaten the buds that begin at this time to appear in vineyards. If the fruit is to mature its beginnings must not be allowed to freeze.  Frost alerts provoke the lighting of fires amid the vines.   To raise the temperature by a few degrees for a few hours can be enough to save the crop. Prompt action and reliable weather forecasts enable such fires to bring enough warmth until unseasonably low temperatures are no longer a threat.  Long in advance of the harvest, the future abundance is rescued by well-placed fires.  Those who labour to set the braziers burning are fearful of a catastrophe.  The frost might kill this year’s crop.  More impressive than fear, is their energy and ingenuity.  Our love is not be just words or mere talk, but something real and active [4]. Even in the middle of the night, the threat of a freeze provokes a vigorous response and the shrewd placing of little bonfires amid the endangered plants and roots.  The fires in the vineyard are signs of hope. They are a promise of rich growth rescued from a destroying cold that might have nipped it in the bud.  The Lord of the vineyard is watching carefully over us. These things the Lord has done [5].  He brings his warmth close to us so that we can make our way more purposefully towards the fruitfulness that he has in mind for us. It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit [6].

The cagey Christians in Jerusalem, are not quite sure, at first, whether to believe in Saul’s conversion: they were all afraid of him: they could not believe that he was really a disciple [7].  They are won over by the diplomacy of Barnabas but also by Saul’s own behaviour, his preaching fearlessly in the name of the Lord [8].  His fiery courage reveals the truth.  Perhaps we are similarly wary of the fires in the vineyard. Are they not emblems of destruction rather than of conversion and flourishing faith?  Anyone who does not remain in me is like a branch that has been thrown away – he withers; these branches are collected and thrown on the fire [9].   Are we going to allow ourselves to be warned and warmed by these flames?  Or will chill be cast in our hearts, like the memory of Saul’s former persecution of the Church? How are we to remain in Christ so as not to wither and be destroyed?   The answer is to hand ourselves over to the Father who is the vinedresser and to allow ourselves to be cared for by him.  His is a tough love.  He does whatever is needed to save the harvest.   The fires may warm tender shoots during a frost in May.  However, they can also destroy what is useless and desiccated. We need not be afraid in God’s presence [10] if we allow ourselves to be shaped and guided by him.

Whoever keeps his commandments lives in God and God lives in him [11].   We obey God less out of fear that his fire could destroy us as by a love that is responsive to all that he does to save us.  His pruning could seem too vigorous for us to bear.  Yet the vinedresser’s cutting back is utterly constructive. Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes to make it bear even more [12].   Out of sacrifice and self-denial come devotion to God and service of others. The reward and the encouragement of such fidelity is a closeness to the Lord in which truth flourishes.  He re himself to us unstintingly. We can say to him all that is in our heart. Whatever we ask him we shall receive, because we keep his commandments and live the kind of life that he wants [13].   The pruning thins our selfishness and aligns us to the will of God.  Grafted onto Christ, we grow like him, especially in his concern for others.  His commandment to love echoes in our heart. You are pruned already, by means of the word that I have spoken to you [14].  Saul proved himself by the intensity of his apostolic service.  His new master was audible in what he said and visible in his conduct.   We too are continually being reconverted.  We are always re-discovering the joy of remaining in the One who is the source of all that is good.  From time to time, unexpected frosts threaten our life of faith.  The vinedresser hurries to light his fires amid the plants not to intimidate us but to melt the ice.  To quieten our conscience in his presence [15] is to allow the blaze of the Father’s love to purify us of our sins.  This fire refines us for abundance and strength in imitation of the Son.  The flame is kindled and frequently re-ignited by the Holy Spirit that he has given us [16] who impels us to live the kind of life that he wants.

Homily by Father Peter Gallagher SJ

[1]              John 15.6

[2]              John 15.1

[3]              John 15.2

[4]              1 John 3.18

[5]              Psalm (22) 21.32

[6]              John 15.8

[7]              Acts 9.26

[8]              Acts 9.28

[9]              John 15.6

[10]            1 John 3.21

[11]            1 John 3.24

[12]            John 15.2

[13]            1 John 3.22

[14]            John 15.3

[15]            1 John 3.19

[16]            1 John 3.24