Commentary on the Gospel of

Joan Blandin Howard - Creighton University Retired



Abide in Me

I watched a crew of 3 strong men take down a graceful old tree.  For decades the tree shadowed the yard.  Gave shelter to generations of swooping, singing, playful birds and homes to fluffy, scurrying, beady-eyed squirrels. It canopied little people’s tea parties and offered a leg up to many a child reaching for the sky.  This tall, full, green leafed tree was beautiful, alive and giving.  Swaying in the glory of God.   It offered life to much of creation, a resting place for the sleepy, challenge to the adventurous and numerous untold gifts. 

Why take it down? With the screeching swipe of the saw and earth quivering thud of weighty severed limbs, came ground scaring divots.  Each time I felt gut-punched.  I kept vigil all day.  A dear friend, for the last 25 years was being dismembered.  I am not an arborist, but it was not hard to see that the tree was healthy.  The wood was fresh, clear and strong – no decay.  It was still bearing fruit. For some reason, unknown to me, someone decided that tree was no longer healthy and/or useful or desirable.   My tears swelled as its broken branches were hauled to the chipper and devoured.   It is gone. Within a year there may not be a sign of its past existence. 

John writes, “…my Father is the vinegrower.  He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit.  Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit…” (I ask, why was this tree instead not pruned?)  “I am the vine and you are the branches.  Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit…”.  As horrifying as the death and destruction of that tree sounds, the gospel goes on to say, “whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch…thrown into the fire and burned.”  This does not sound much better.

Where is the “good-news” in all of this? If I am faithful to God and abide in God, John says, “ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

Read on…the really good-news comes in the following 3 verses, 9-11.  Love (loved) is written five times; Joy is used twice; abide three times!  “As the Father has loved me, so I love you; abide in my love."  The previous 8 versus are not meant to frighten or scare us, but “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”  I ask myself, how was God/Spirit with me, abiding in me, as I sat in vigil with my beloved tree?   No immediate answer in the midst of pain.  Gradually, I did experience a glimmer of gratitude for the numerous gifts over decades that tree had given.  I sat with this, savoring it and very gradually experienced a sort of joy. There is more here to savor.  Ask yourself, when and how have I experienced God/Jesus/Spirit abiding in me in a tragic moment – maybe sometime during this year off COVID? Take your time sitting with Spirit.  Where is God’s lifegiving fruit of joy in my life?  Difficult questions in hard times.  In love the answer, the comfort, the joy will come.

“Remain in (love with) me as I remain in (love with) you…”
John 15:4


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