Far from a simple subscription to a series of doctrinal statements, being a true Christian requires sticking to Christ as a branch does to a vine tree. Jesus teaches us this lesson of divine dependence in his allegory of the vine (Jn 15:1-8).
“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.”
We may have a tendency today of looking at the above words of Jesus as usual figures of speech. In that case, we may miss the point of emphasis that Jesus is making for us.
He is pointing at the importance of the natural link between the vine and the branches for the survival of the latter. But this is a mere symbol which can help our human mind to imagine the infinitely closer union of Jesus with his followers.
That is why Jesus speaks of himself as the ‘genuine’ vine and that sublime truth which the vine symbolizes can be fully realized only in him. In other words, his declaration is emphatic and clear: As Christians, we live by the life of Christ, and that is only if his life flows in us.
Evidently, this teaching calls for a deeper pastoral implication: The Spirit is like the soul that unites the whole living organism of Christ. The Church, his body, is “the place where the Spirit flourishes”.
As a gardener scratches the bark of a branch to see if the green of life appears in it, like wise “Scratching” a Christian would reveal the presence of the Holy Spirit, as a sign that he or she is united to Christ.
And Jesus is telling us that such a Christian shall produce “the fruit of the Spirit”.
In turn those fruits of the Spirit such as genuine love, true joy, real peace, unfailing patience, genuine kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control shall be the characteristics of a true Christian who is united to Christ (Galatians 5:22-23).
While the branches which are detached from the vine lose the sap and become good only for firewood, the Christians who have the misfortune of losing the sap of the divine life through sin can return to life through the sacrament of reconciliation.
That is why the Church plays the parental role of nourishing and strengthening that spiritual life in Christians through the Sacraments, communal prayer and various exercises of Christian charity.
And as Christians, the Eucharist is the most privileged source in which we can seek to strengthen our unity with the Vine. Although God the Father as divine Gardener cares for the vine, and he constantly strips the branches of excess growth that stops them bearing fruit.
Unlike mere trees, we human beings share with God that responsibility of decreasing the excess growth. But at times we fail in this and instead dedicate ourselves more in adding surplus fat to our body, our spirit, our wallet, and our self-conceit; all in a way which is not Christian.
In this case and according to our daily experience, some kind of intervention may come in the form of illness, disappointments, personal or business failures, and adversities of many other kinds in such a way that we ask ourselves “how can God allow this to happen to us?”
The allegory of the vine serves as a warning for us. When we find ourselves in such a situation, we have a reason to check whether we are still connected to the Vine or whether we are becoming loose branches.
As for a branch connected to the vine produces the grapes, so shall a good Christian be marked by that Christian temper, by a Christian disposition, and by a way of life which reflects the glory of God and the dignity of man.