In five Bible moments recorded by St. John the Evangelist, Jesus employed striking and unsettling metaphors to describe His relationship with us. These came in allegorical speeches called the “I am sayings,” which diffuse intricate spiritual fervor with deep emotional and real life resonance. The first “I am” saying was “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35); the second was “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12); the third, which we heard last Sunday was “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11); the fourth was “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25); and finally the fifth, “I am the true vine” (John 15:1), heard in today’s gospel. Each of these sayings references a particular area of human need to which the Savior posits none other than Himself as the ultimate beneficent provider—bread for food, light for vision and direction, shepherd for safety and protection, resurrection for hope and wellness, and vine for awakening, stimulation and activity. These sayings are indicative of patterns in the human organic structure requiring support and sustenance. Jesus clearly states that He alone can provide the support and sustenance to actuate, vivify and restore the quiddity of life at any given stage. He goes as far as saying that without Him we can do nothing. Uhhgh, that sounds quite bothersome! Does He really mean that?
In reference to the statement, ‘without me you can do nothing,’ my metaphysics professor, Curran, said that Jesus was not suggesting that those who alienate themselves from Him will become immobile or condemned to inactivity, unable to do anything; rather, in precise metaphysical terms, they can quintessentially make only non-being. To make non-being is to become a harbinger of woe, gloom and doom. A classic example of such maker of non-being was Saul prior to his conversion. The first reading describes him as a harbinger of woe and destruction of the faith. Saul was not immobile before he became grafted onto Jesus, the Vine. In fact, he did a lot of things—like being the henchman at the stoning of an innocent man, Stephen, the first martyr; like, marching Christians to prison and the execution chamber. And like Saul, many makers of non-being, then and now, are certain that they are right in their deranged enterprise. For example, Hitler set out to ‘cleanup’ the human race and rid it of human vermin that polluted it; today’s purveyors of abortion rights, euthanasia, gay dicta, gender fluidity and unbelief pride themselves as decent people out to help others attain optimal levels of happiness; the Al-Qaida warriors believe that they are doing a holy service to Allah, etc. What they all have in common is a mode of life separated from Christ, the Vine. Whenever anyone of them becomes grafted onto Christ, they experience life as they never knew it before. Saul who would become Paul is an example of one pruned by the Father and went on to bear unbelievable fruit.
Pruning is often a violent act, involving taking a knife, a clipper or saw to cut out or cut into shape, expunge dead limbs, cut out thorns and thistles that grow into the vine with intent to destroy it. So the enemy and the world circle us with deadweights and destructive ideologies that seek to suffocate the vine. When the heavenly Gardener comes with Skillful Hands to prune us for our overall spiritual health, many cry out in anguish about the discipline, sacrifices, and transformation we must undergo in order to fit the landscape of paradise. Through the Church, our spiritual Mother, God also prunes us with doctrines and belief systems that fit better the heavenly landscape. The fruits of our suffering in the midst of the pruning are often immediately indiscernible because our feeble nature desires to remain as putrid as it is. Can I ask you today to reflect deeply and identify those pruning moments and see them for what they are: God taking His shears and working your life to shape. If in the past you have resisted, can I ask you to surrender today and beg the Lord to get busy with your soul.
Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo