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Vine, Vine Grower, Branches


VINE, VINE GROWER, AND BRANCHES

Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower” (Jn 15:1) and “I am the vine, you are the branches” (Jn 15:5). Jesus made use of imageries from people’s experience to clarify his relationship with the Father and his disciples. His listeners were familiar with the well-maintained vine plantation on the hillsides of the Holy Land. Here Jesus presents himself as “the true vine” like he had presented himself as the gate for the sheep (Jn 10:7-9) and as the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep (Jn 10:11-15).

Isaiah presented Israel as God’s vineyard (Is 5:1–7) and Jesus used the same imagery for the parable of the tenants presenting Israel as God’s well-preserved vineyard (Mt 21:33-46). Psalm 80:9-17 presents Israel as God’s vine, starting with, “You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out nations and planted it” (Isa 80:9).

Jesus emphasized the truthfulness, eternity, and perfection of himself as the vine of divine origin by using the words for himself as “true vine” (Jn 15:1). Unlike Israel, the vineyard of God, this vine tree is the excellent one, bearing the best fruit because there is a quality difference in the vine trees. While speaking of false prophets, Jesus said, “By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit” (Mt 7:16-18). Jesus, unlike rotten vine trees, is the best of its kind, bearing high quality fruit.

FATHER IS THE VINE GROWER

God is the owner of the vine, which stands for Jesus with his disciples as its branches. In the parable of the tenants, Jesus presented the Father as the “landowner who planted a vineyard” (Mt 21:33; Mk 12:1; Lk 20:9) which is Israel. Jesus did not work independently of himself and expressed his close affiliation with the Father. The Father is also the vinedresser who takes diligent care of his vine to assure good yield.

God, as the vinedresser, would do the twofold tasks in his vineyard for effective fruit production. First, he would cut off the fruitless tendrils to save the sap that they might use, thus saving it for the fruit-bearing branches. Then he would trim unnecessary shoots to keep the sap only for the selected branches, yielding the best results (Jn 15:2).

When Jesus presented this metaphor, Judas was the rotten branch among the apostles. He cut himself off from Jesus’ team by his greed for money, betrayal of his master, and his suicide. The other eleven were the fruitful branches that went through pruning during their ministry. The apostles, whom God pruned, produced excellent results. A comparable situation would continue in the Church’s history.

WITHERED BRANCHES

Jesus is the vine, and his disciples are the branches that he feeds with spiritual nourishment. They must bear excellent fruit out of the grace they receive. If they fail in it, God the Father, who is the vinedresser, would cut them out of the tree, ending in their eternal destruction. Matthew chapter 25 gives examples of such futile people.

1. In the parable of the ten virgins, five of them failed to take oil with their lamps while waiting to welcome the bridegroom at night. Jesus presented them as foolish virgins because they could not join the wedding feast for lack of oil when the bridegroom arrived at midnight (Mt 25:1-13). The non- practising Christians will end up in such a fate at the second coming of Christ or by the end of their lives. God would exclude those without the oil of Christian virtue from the eternal banquet in heaven.

2. The parable of the talents is another example of a cut-off branch. A noble person entrusted five, two, and one talent each to his servants according to their ability before he went on a journey. The first two multiplied their talents through trade. “But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money.” When the master returned and settled accounts with the three, the one who received one talent paid back the same amount with no earning. The master commanded, “Throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth” (Mt 25:14-30). Thus, Jesus warned his disciples to be productive with the Christian virtues they had received.

3. The verdict at the second coming of Christ to judge the nations is another example of what would happen to the unproductive people. The Son of Man will assemble all the nations and separate them like the sheep from the goats. After rewarding the righteous on the right, “he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ … ‘And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life’” (Mt 25:31-46). Thus, Jesus illustrated how people could become rotten branches that he would cut off at the end.

A few people who joined the mystical body of Christ through baptism might lose faith and leave the Church like a cut-off branch. Some others would remain as nominal members in the Church, generating no results out of the grace they have received. A typical example is Judas Iscariot, who, along with other apostles, left everything and followed Jesus closely, preached his gospel in the villages and towns, and healed the sick and cast out demons. However, his heart was still nurturing selfish motives. Jesus told about such disciples, “‘Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers’” (Mt 7:21-23). Hence, only those who do the Father’s will, as Jesus taught us, will be the true branches that God would preserve for the eternal reward. God the Father will destroy the unproductive branches.

PRUNING THE BRANCHES

During the Biblical times, the farmers prevented vine from fruit- bearing during the first three years of its growth to keep the plant strong. Careful pruning will continue from the fourth year to strengthen the fruit-bearing capacity. The annual pruning takes place in December and January.

Pruning of the vine involves:
1. Pinching off the tip of the shoot for its slow growth.
2. Cutting the larger branches to prevent them from becoming too long and weak.
3. Thinning out the unwanted flowers or grape clusters.

These acts will hurt the plant but are beneficial for its best productivity. Jesus used this as an example of the hardships and opposition the disciples might face in their ministry, leading to a glorious result. God the Father allows them for the best outcome.

During the Old Testament times, the vineyard of God was the house of Israel, the people of Judah, his cherished plant (Isa 5:7a). “He spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines; Within it, he built a watchtower and hewed out a wine press. Then he waited for the crop of grapes, but it yielded rotten grapes” (Isa 5:2). “Although prophets were sent to them to turn them back to the LORD and to warn them, the people would not listen” (2 Chr 24:19). He destroyed the unfaithful through war and natural calamities, like cutting away the rotten branches of the vine. He pruned the rest by temporary punishments for their repentance and revival of covenantal relationship with God. “The discipline of the LORD, my son, do not spurn; do not disdain his reproof; For whom the LORD loves he reproves, as a father, the son he favors” (Prov 3:11-12).

Jesus came to prune the imperfect and to add the obedient to his kingdom, the Church. After his ascension into heaven, Jesus continues to feed the faithful through his Church like the unseen root of the tree. Thus, Christians receive spiritual nourishment from Jesus through the Church to become virtuous in the world. While feeding the faithful with sacramental grace, God also prunes them with challenges in life and in their ministry for high productivity. “Blessed is the man who perseveres in temptation, for when he has been proved he will receive the crown of life that he promised to those who love him” (Jas 1:12).

Fruit and food production involve hardship and pain, ending in excellent results. Jesus said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (Jn 12:24). People grind the wheat to make bread and crush the grapes to produce wine. Similarly, the glorification of Jesus happened after his passion, death, and resurrection. He asked his disciples to follow his path. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 16:24-25).

Spiritual pruning is necessary for our purification and spiritual growth. Prominent Biblical figures like Noah, Abraham, and Job faced challenges on their spiritual journey, culminating in high rewards for them. The apostles and the early Christian community underwent persecution because of their loyalty to Jesus. They welcomed the pain of pruning without complaint because Jesus was their role model in facing severe oppression. “Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time” (Dan 11:35). Every failure, sickness, death of a loved person, material loss, prejudice, hardships in the ministry, or other hurdles will have a better turn out if we but take them with a positive attitude.

Jesus taught, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few” (Mt 7:13-14). God knows our suffering and, like a parent to the child, he would safeguard us and welcome us to himself. Hence, we read in Hebrews, “Endure your trials as ‘discipline;’ God treats you as sons. For what ‘son’ is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are without discipline, in which all have shared, you are not sons but bastards” (Heb 12:7-8). “At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it” (Heb 12:11).

UNION WITH JESUS

A branch cannot function independently but has to remain part of the tree to get the sap necessary for survival and productivity. Jesus, the way, and the truth, also gives eternal life. No one can inherit the kingdom without him. When a branch separates from the tree, it loses life, as with the prodigal son who insisted on departing from his father with his inheritance. He eventually lost everything he had received from his father and was abandoned by all people. He became like a withered branch. When he reconciled with his father, he regained his lost privileges in the family. Separation from Jesus and his Church is spiritually destructive and union with Jesus through his Church is beneficial for the eternal reward. So, Jesus came to bring back to him and to his Father those who became withered branches.

The vine per se can survive even if we cut down a few branches. But the branches cannot continue to exist without their union with the stem. When the branches remain connected to the tree, they form one vine and become fruitful. Jesus is the vine that connects the branches to the ground from where the nourishment needed flows through the roots and stem to the branches. Similarly, we get the grace from heaven only through Jesus and his Church. That is why Jesus said, “apart from me, you can do nothing.”
During Old Testament times, when the chosen people deviated from the commandments of God, they lost God’s protection. That led to their destruction by the enemies around them, ending up in slavery. When a division happened in Israel after the reign of Solomon, Northern Israel lost connection with the Temple in Jerusalem and became idolatrous. The Assyrians attacked them and dispersed them all over the world. They could never regain unity with the worshippers of the God of Israel.

Jesus established only one Church with him as its head. Unfortunately, divisions happened because of opposing views and conflict of interests, resulting in multiple Christian denominations. Towards the end of his public ministry, Jesus had prayed for unity among his disciples (Jn 17:20-21). Individuals also separated from the Church, claiming they want only a direct relation with God. Such supposedly spiritual people avoid understanding that Jesus is the only way, truth, and life. Without him and his Church, we cannot reach our eternal destination.

WITHERED BRANCHES THROWN INTO THE FIRE

Jesus said, “Whoever does not remain in me is like a withered branch that is thrown away; and the withered branches are gathered and thrown into the fire and burned” (Jn 15:6). When the vinedresser cuts away the fruitless and dried branches, they wither and become useless except as fuel for fire (Ezek 15:1-8). Similarly, an unfaithful Christian will wither spiritually, ending up in eternal destruction, though he or she might seem healthy and wealthy at present. Those who abandon their faith in Jesus, or affiliation to the Church he established, would not inherit heaven because Jesus is the only way to the Father.

The message of John the Baptist was, “Even now the axe lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Mt 3). When Jesus was hungry, he approached a fig tree. Even after three years of its growth, it did not produce any fruit, but leaves only. He said to it, “‘May no fruit ever come from you again.’ And immediately the fig tree withered” (Mt 21:20). God would allow time to the fruitless people for conversion. In the parable of the barren fig tree, the owner said to the gardener, “For three years now, I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?” At the gardener’s request, the owner allowed another year to till the ground and fertilize it, giving it a last chance (Lk 13:6-8). So, the material prosperity of the non-believer is not an assurance of God’s reward but an opportunity for repentance and reconciliation with Jesus and his Church.

The destruction of the withered people in fire will happen at the second coming of Christ. “But as for cowards, the unfaithful, the depraved, murderers, the unchaste, sorcerers, idol-worshipers, and deceivers of every sort, their lot is in the burning pool of fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (Rev 21:8).

PRODUCTIVITY WITH JESUS

When the disciples remain united with Jesus by keeping his commandment of love, his words remain productive through them. They extend his mission by preaching the word of God and serving people who are in distress, as Jesus had been doing during his public ministry. The Word that became flesh and dwelt among us will continue his action through his representatives on earth. At the Last Supper discourse, Jesus told the apostles, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words” (Jn 14:23-24). God blessed David and renewed His covenant with him because he walked before God with fidelity, justice, and an upright heart (1 Kgs 3:6).

 


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