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Commentary to the 5th EASTER SUNDAY – YEAR B

Fernando Armellini - Sat, May 1st 2021

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“At that time, Jesus said, ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.’” 

A good Easter to all.  

In the Gospel according to John, Jesus never speaks in parables as he does in the synoptic  gospels but uses similes and images to communicate his message. He says, for example, 'I am  the true shepherd'; 'I am the light of the world'; 'I am the bread of life' and today we have  heard him use the image of the vine: 'I am the true vine.'  

Today, the vine and the vineyards have only meaning as an economic value; it was not so  in Jesus' time. Some large landowners had their own vineyards, but each family, next to their  own house, had a vine and as the vine is a plant with a very long-life span that can last for  centuries and therefore ' knew my ancestors,' it became like a member of the family, and  an affectionate relationship was established because this vine had always given delicious  bunches of grapes that had made this family happy. Then, the branches and the leaves gave  a good shade and thus was born a proverb that was repeated many times in the Bible to  indicate a time of serenity, of friendship, of peace, of joy, the time when you are sitting under  your own vine and your own fig tree.  

And it is in this context that Jesus uses the image of the vine. He presents himself as the  true vine, and his claim is not calm and kind because he alludes to another vine that was  believed to be the true vine in saying that he is the true vine. Which vine was he referring to?  The vine, together with the fig tree, is one of the symbols of the people of Israel and how is it that Israel took the image of the vine? Because the vine brings forth delicious grapes, and  from the grapes comes forth wine. Wine is the symbol of the joy, of the feast. Israel was  convinced of being a vine that offered to the Lord that which makes him happy, which pleases  him, introduces him to a feast and joy.  

And let us add, moreover, that the vine in the Bible is also the image of the wife who  offers to her husband the delight of her love. Psalm 128: "Your wife is like a fruitful vine in the  privacy of your home." Israel was convinced to be this vine, this faithful wife to the Lord,  always ready to fill him with joy; and offered the grapes it produced: sacrifices, offerings,  burnt offerings, incense, prayers, songs and music performed to perfection. The problem was  that God was not interested in these fruits; they were more like garbage to Him. Through the  mouth of the prophet Hosea, he said: "I want works of love, not sacrifices." And the  denouncement of the falsity of this vine is also made by the other prophets.  

The famous 'song of the vineyard' of the prophet Isaiah, this young prophet, about 20  years old, who wants to denounce this religious absurdity. He already did it at the beginning  of his book, but then he takes it up again with a song that he composes and that he probably  performed it accompanied by a zither singing to his friends in the alleys of the city of  Jerusalem as the itinerant storytellers do, and then this song was listened to and sung by  those who liked it and understood the provocative message. It's a lovely song which was  preserved in the book of the prophet Isaiah; it is a pity that the music has not been preserved.  It is a song in which Isaiah tells the love story of his friend with his wife. He falls in love with  his wife. The one who is listening to this song understands that this friend of his is God who  fell in love with a girl, symbolized in the vine. He showered the vine with care and attention;  but then this vine produced inedible grapes – meaning his wife was unfaithful.  

This is Israel, the false vine that disappointed the expectations of her husband, the Lord.  Indeed, in the song of Isaiah, he says: The Lord expected righteousness and instead saw  bloodshed; expected virtuousness and heard the cries of the oppressed people. These are the  same accusations that the Lord makes to Israel by the mouth of Jeremiah: 'I had planted you  like a fine vineyard, made entirely of genuine vines, but how did it become a bastard vine?'  

When Jesus says: "I am the true vine" everyone understands the allusion he was making.  Israel had defrauded their Lord. And now Jesus specifies who is the owner of this vineyard.  The Father is responsible; he is the vine grower; he is the one who has believed this vine and  he has staked everything on it. Now, if it fails to produce fruits, it is also a failure for him.  

Let us now listen to what the Father, the vine grower, does with this vineyard:  

"He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does, he  prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke  to you."  

In the few verses of today's Gospel, we will hear Jesus repeating seven times the  expression' bear fruit'; if the vine does not produce grapes, it is good for nothing. The prophet  Ezekiel in chapter 15 says it very well: "How is the wood of a vine different from the wood of  any of the trees in the forest? Is wood ever taken from it to make anything worthwhile? Do  they make pegs from it to hang things on? And after it is thrown on the fire as fuel and the  fire burns both ends and chars the middle, is it then useful for anything? If it was not helpful  for anything when it was whole, how much less can it be made into something useful when  the fire has burned it, and it is charred?" 

What distinguishes the false life from the true life is the fruit. And this is valid for Israel  and for the community of the disciples of Christ. The prophets that we have heard: Hosea,  Isaiah, Jeremiah were not condemning the people of Israel; they were condemning certain  religious practices that was not pleasing to the Lord. Therefore, it is not possible to be a  disciple of Christ. only with words. Jesus says it in the Gospel: "Not he who says, 'Lord,' 'Lord,'  will enter the kingdom of God. but he who does the will of the Father." And also, John, in his  first letter, writes: "Children, let us not love with words, with the tongue, but in deed and  truth, bearing fruit."  

We wonder, then, what is this fruit that the heavenly Father expects. Let us think of the  symbolic meaning that grapes and wine have in the Bible: joy, celebration; this is the only fruit  that the heavenly Father expects from this vine. This is the world the Father wants, where all  his sons and daughters will be happy. He wants no other fruits but joy of his sons and  daughters. And what does the farmer do, so that the vine produces this fruit, a whole new  world where the pain and the lifelessness disappears? Jesus says that he performs two  actions; the first one, 'if a branch does not bear fruit he takes it away if the branch bears fruit  then he prunes it because he wants it to produce even more fruit.'  

These are actions that were performed by farmers in two different seasons of the year.  During the winter, the farmer approached the vineyard and removed the useless branches,  and then, in August, he carried out another action: he removed the weakest shoots to favor  the best. The goal is to have an even more abundant amount of grapes. Let us begin with the  first action of the heavenly Father: remove the branch that bears no fruit. It is of no use.  

The most immediate interpretation could be that of a threat against the cutting off of the  branches which are dead, unproductive and are therefore those Christians who are called  Christians because they are on the list of baptized but then they do not produce this fruit...  then the heavenly Father cuts them off and throws them into the fire.... 

Let us abandon this misleading interpretation, which contradicts the affection of the  heavenly Father for the weaker branches. Every person is animated by the sap, which is the  Spirit of Christ, not only those who belong to the ecclesial institution, but every person is a  branch, a shoot that produces something. The heavenly Father does not drive anyone away;  he does not throw anyone into the fire.  

So, what is Jesus saying? The discourse is addressed to Christians who have been inserted  into Christ as branches into the vine in baptism. Jesus is saying that it is not enough to be  nominally, outwardly inserted into this vine, it is necessary to let the sap of the Spirit of Christ  act, which is what has led him to give all of himself for love because this Spirit can be blocked  and if it does not reach the intimate self that each one has in oneself. If it blocks this sap, the  branches produce nothing. Therefore, it is not a threat, but a warning against the danger of  not letting the Spirit of Christ to take effect.  

This can happen to anyone, including Christians. In this case, Jesus says that the branch  is dry; it does not produce joy in the world but pain. Any time that the branch is not animated  by the sap of Christ; it is a time of life lost, time burnt of which there will be no traces left.  This is the warning that Jesus makes with this call of being united to the vine but then block  the Spirit of Christ.  

The second action of the heavenly Father, in which he shows us all his care so that the  branches will produce the most is presented with the image of pruning. There is pruning even  where the branches are good and produce fruits but they are cuts that these shoots need.  We could give many examples of life contexts of each one in which the sap of the Spirit has  been blocked. 

Let us think of those moments in which we lose ourselves in uselessness, in trivial, fleeting  things; let's think about the amount of time wasted by many young people and many  teenagers using social networks. We need to prune; let the heavenly Father prune us of these  losses of life. Let us think about these moments in which we allow ourselves to be guided by  sloth, laziness, the little desire to make ourselves available when someone needs help. Let's  think about the cuts needed by those who live a double life, made of concessions. Let us also  think of the cuts needed by those who have a morbid attachment to goods, see nothing but  money, and therefore forget those who are in need. These people also do many beautiful  things, but they need to be purified, and the Father makes these cuts.  

Now we ask ourselves: How does the heavenly Father do these pruning which we all  need? Jesus tells us how the heavenly Father prunes: with his Word. "You are cleansed by the  word which I have preached to you," Jesus says. This word is the word of the Gospel, "Sharper  than any double-edged sword." says the letter to the Hebrews, "it penetrates even to dividing  soul and Spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." There is  no dark corner of our life, secret corner of the heart that can escape this light of the word of  the Gospel.  

This word illuminates all the contexts of your life in which you block the sap of the Spirit  of Christ, when you do not let this Spirit act which would lead you to love and consume your  life to make you happy and produce joy for the brothers and sisters. This word shows you all  the dead branches that must be eliminated from your life, the useless leaves that take space,  they take sunshine away from the branches that are productive instead.  

And it is clear that pruning always involves also a painful aspect, and it is necessary to  take it into account because we all are sad to see certain behaviors to which we are fond of  being cut. The book of Job says it well: 'The hands of God hurt to heal.' Let's think, also, in so  many of our religious manifestations, certain devotions that we practice because they calm  us and give us, perhaps, the illusion of being in a good relationship with God, but we stop  there, we don't get to produce those fruits that the heavenly Father expects. The word of the  Gospel illuminates very well this religious behavior and tells us to go one step further and  come to produce works of love, which are the only ones that interest the heavenly Father.  

Jesus said during the last supper: "They are already clean through the word which is  preached to them, but not all." There was one who belonged outwardly to the community of  disciples but had not allowed himself to be pruned. It was Judas, who cultivated dreams of  greatness, of his religious traditions from which Jesus was not able to detach him, and he has  handed over the Master to the religious authority. He is an example of a person who the word  of the Gospel has not pruned.  

But the heavenly Father does not prune only with the word but also guides us through  his angels that he places at our side; they are our brothers and sisters who see very well what  are in us the branches that need to be pruned because they bother us. We see very well in  others. When the Spirit is not at work, but the selfishness, the evil one makes them center on  themselves, and thus, they do not produce fruit. These angels, when they show us the  branches that need pruning are the ones that the heavenly Father uses to purify our life.  

And the heavenly Father also uses our own life to purify us from our idols. Many times,  when the infirmities come over the years, and as our strength declines, we realize that those  idols crumble. As idols, they were wonderful things but when we put all our hope in those  idols, we become their slaves and lose our sense of life. Instead, through what happens in our  lives, we are invited to look at the meaning of our existence beyond the finite. 

And there is also another way in which the heavenly Father prunes this vine, and that is  through criticism, sometimes harsh and biting, from many parts of the secular world are  directed at our Christian community. And we cannot dismiss them too quickly by saying that  they are crafty expressions of prejudiced people and therefore, they should not be taken into  account. No, they can be very true; they can be a claim to a little evangelical life; then, the  heavenly Father uses them to prune this vine and to make it produce much fruit.  

And now Jesus clarifies the image of the vine and the branches with a verb that in the  Gospel according to John is repeated 40 times; is a very important verb and is repeated seven times in these few verses of our Gospel. It is the verb "to remain" of which we want to grasp  the meaning.  

Let's listen:  

"Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it  remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the  branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit because you can do  nothing without me. Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and  wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire, and they will be burned. If you  remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want, and it will be done for  you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples."  

"Remain in me, as I remain in you." What does this verb 'remain' mean? It is already at  the beginning of the Gospel according to John, when the Baptist points out to Jesus two of his  disciples as the Lamb. They follow Jesus, and Jesus turns to them and asks them, "What do  you want?". And they answer, "Where do you stay - what is thy dwelling place?" and they saw  where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. Jesus had no house in that place;  "to dwell" meant a different thing. They realized that Jesus is an extraordinary person, and  they asked him where do you dwell, meaning what is your world?  

Let's give some examples to help us understand the meaning of this dwelling place that  Jesus dwells in us and us in Christ. Let us take the example of those in love: when one is in  love, he/she always carries within himself/herself the loved one; he carries her in his heart;  he remembers her continually with joy, in any situation. If he is a student, at a particular  moment he begins to stare; his head is there - for the beloved person. If he's working, the  phone rings... maybe it's the person I love calling me... That person' dwells,' lives in him;  everything reminds him of this person because he has her inside him; she lives in him, he  always carries her with him. That's what the little prince said: 'if you see the color of the  wheat, you will remember me because my hair is blond.' For someone who is in love, anything  reminds him of the loved one.  

This is what Jesus says: "Remain in me as I remain in you." Any event has to remind us of  him if we are immersed in him, intimately united to him as the branches to the vine.  Another example: Commenting on the complaints, the protests of the Israelites during  the exodus, who complained all the time, lamenting the pots and pans that they dreamed of  because it's not like they ate meat all the time in Egypt, but quite the contrary. The rabbis said  that it was easier for God to bring his people out of Egypt than to remove Egypt from the  heart of his people. Egypt had remained with these people. Egypt still lived in the hearts of  the Israelites; this thought was always with them. It is the same situation that will be repeated  for the Israelites in Babylon... The Lord will deliver these people out of Babylon but Babylon  will remain in their heart. That is the 'dwelling place' we are talking about. 

We, too, have the experience when a friend who has marked our life deeply perhaps  because the encounter with him made us understand the true meaning of our life or took us  out of danger, that person remains in us, or a widow that sometimes we hear her exclaiming  'so many years have gone by but my husband always remains in me,' it is not only the memory,  the regret, but the whole love story that has marked her life that remains, and that time can  never be erased. That is what 'dwelling' is all about, it is not about living in a material space,  but about a deep relationship, an intimate communication of thoughts, emotions, dreams,  choices.... 

From these emotional experiences, to remain in Jesus, to remain in his life, means to  remain in his world, to remain in his way of thinking, loving, and acting. All this thinking, this  search for Christ becomes mine. In other words, Christ has implanted himself deeply in my  heart so that I cannot do anything that does not agree with him.  

This is what Paul says with enthusiasm; he repeats 164 times in his letters the refrain of  'being in Christ,' continually wrapped up in his person. In the second letter to the Corinthians,  in chapter 5: "If one is inserted in Christ, in this life, he is a new creature; old things have  passed away; new things have arisen". Or in the letter to the Galatians, "It is not I who live, it  is Christ who lives in me." They live in symbiosis; in tune, one dwells in the other. This is the  'belonging' that Jesus recommends to us because if we do not dwell in him, our life does not  produce fruit. Again in the letter to the Galatians: "Those who have been baptized into Christ  have put on Christ, they have put off the old man, have put off their deeds, and have put on  the new man."  

Then we can ask ourselves: where do I dwell? Where do I put the meaning of my life?  who and what do I have in my heart that I continuously remember, that decides all my  choices? In this way, I can answer where do I remain and who dwells in me. Jesus goes on to  say: "I am the vine, you are the branches, who remains in me and I in him produce much fruit."  

Without the sap, which is the Spirit of Christ that led him to love unconditionally, even  his enemies. Without this Spirit, separated from this Spirit, our life is simply biological.  And what are the fruits that this sap produces? Paul tells us very well in the letter to the  Galatians, in chapter 5: The first fruit of the Spirit is love, agape; this term 'agape' defines the  total love, which is that of Christ who has an unconditional love, which seeks above all the joy  of the other; he does not think of himself. This is the 'agape', unconditional love, even for  those who have hurt me.  

Secondly, joy, peace, patience, knowing how to adapt to the needs of the brother and  sister in every situation of life, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control... these are the  fruits of this sap... which is the Spirit of Christ. Jesus says: 'If anyone does not remain in me, he is a withered branch.' It is a severe warning; it is not the people that are cast out, but all  activities that are carried out detached from the Spirit of Christ and has no consistency; it is  garbage, and for that reason, it is burned. The image is the one used by the Baptist who says:  "He who comes after me has the pitchfork in his hand, reaps the good grain, but the chaff is  swept away and thrown into the fire".  

The part of our life that is not moved by the Spirit is the biological one, but of this, there  is nothing left because the only part of our life that remains is the one moved by the Spirit,  the one that produces unconditional love. "If you remain in me and my words remain in you,  you shall ask what you will, and you shall have it." The desires of him who is inserted in the  vine and in him circulate the sap which is that of Christ, his desires are those of the Spirit,  therefore, the desire will not be to dominate, be served, but give joy to the brothers and sisters. These desires will be fulfilled because the Spirit will give you the strength to realize  this love.  

"My Father will be glorified if you bear abundant fruit and are my disciples." The fruit of  the vine: the vine does not produce fruit for itself, produces fruit for someone to enjoy, and  therefore the disciple of Christ does not produce love for the self-satisfaction of his moral  perfection and not even to obtain a reward in paradise. No; he produces fruits because he is  glad to see someone happy; he is delighted to see that the love of God has manifested itself  through him. He rejoices because he sees someone being born, and he gives his contribution  to a world where there is joy, which is the only fruit that the Father in heaven expects.  

I wish you all a Happy Easter and a good week. 

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