Throughout this Easter season, I’ve often found myself writing some version of the phrase “our lives are caught up in Christ’s.” This is usually followed by some explanation, like “because we are anointed with the same Spirit he was.” It’s a similar idea to the ancient Christian theological precept, “We become by grace all that He is by nature.” As Christians, there is no way of separating our identities, vocations, and ministries from Jesus‘. We teach what he taught. We serve the way he served. We care about what he cares about.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus explains all of this using a metaphor from nature:
Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15.4f)
He is the vine; we are the branches.
It’s a simple but rich image. It would be unthinkable to suggest that a branch has an identity apart from the tree from which it grows. It gets its stability and strength, its nourishment, its life from the tree; and it in return gives its life-giving photosynthesized energy back to the tree. The branch is not the tree itself and yet it cannot be thought of apart from the tree. Such is the relationship between Christians and Jesus.
This idea has a few important consequences:
- First, again, if we belong to this vine, our growth, fruitfulness, and our very life is informed, empowered, and nourished by Jesus’ life and teachings. We rely on him.
- Second, there also some reciprocity: we give back our energies and life to the vine. The ‘Jesus project’, the Kingdom of God, is in this sense dependent on us to do our part.
- Third, just as an apple tree does not grow bananas, so must the fruit we bear in our lives be the fruit Jesus bore. If we produce things that are not consistent with Jesus’ mission and message — if we produce strife, envy, illness, poverty, or division, for example — then something is fundamentally wrong in our faith.
- Fourth, as Jesus points out earlier in the passage, if we are branches of his vine, we must be ready to be pruned: “Every branch that bears fruit he [i.e., the Father] prunes to make it bear more fruit.” The goal is not to become the biggest branch of the biggest vine, but to be as fruitful as we can be.
There is so much more that could be said about all this, but I’ll leave it here for today. The point is, as Christians, our lives are nourished, strengthened, and find their identity and purpose in Jesus, the True Vine. If the four points above sound challenging, they should. We live in a world that encourages us to blaze our own trails no matter where they may lead. We live in a world that tells us to focus on our rights and on what we are entitled to, at the expense of our responsibilities to others. Perhaps most of all, we live in a world that is grounded in myths of unlimited growth. With his image of the vine and branches, Jesus is calling us away from all that, to a different kind of identity, relationship, and vocation. He is calling us back to God, whose way is love in truth and action.
May these words of Jesus inspire and strengthen us this week, and in the months and years to come.