domenica 29 aprile 2018

«Sine me nihil potestis facere»

Last week, we were saying that Jesus often used images in his preaching. In the synoptic gospels, he usually resorts to parables, which are stories, to speak of the kingdom of God. In the gospel of John, instead, we do not find parables, but simple metaphors, that is to say, images that Jesus applies to himself, to illustrate some aspects of his own mystery. Last Sunday, Jesus compared himself with the good shepherd; but he had already likened himself to bread and light. In the speech delivered during the last supper, he identifies himself with the way, the truth and the life. 

In today’s gospel, precisely taken from the discourse of the last supper, we find another of these similes. At a certain point, Jesus says, “I am the true vine.” As we were pointing out last week, in most cases these images are not new; they had already been used in the Bible. In the old testament the metaphor of the vineyard stood for the people of Israel; and Jesus himself, in the synoptic gospels, often tells parables about a vineyard meant as a symbol of the kingdom of God. In John’s gospel, Jesus prefers to speak of a vine, rather than a vineyard, and he applies this image to himself.

Why does Jesus have recourse to this metaphor? To illustrate the relationship between his disciples and himself: the disciples should remain united to him, like the branches to the vine. Being disciples of Christ does not mean to follow him like the supporters of a philosopher or a teacher or a political leader, that is to say, just to share in his ideas. Being Christians means to be inserted in Christ’s mystery. Saint Paul will illustrate this insertion with the image of the body and its parts. Here Jesus expresses the same idea saying, “I am the vine, you are the branches.”

Well, “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.” Branches are important, because through them the vine bears fruit; but a branch separated from the vine is nothing: it cannot live and cannot bear fruit; it is good for nothing but to be thrown into a fire. Life and productivity of branches totally depend on their union with the vine: from the vine comes the sap that allows them to live and bear fruit.

What does this mean in connection with us? In today’s gospel, Jesus makes some statements very important to us. First, “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” God wants us to be disciples of his Son and to bear fruit: it is not enough to believe in Jesus Christ; there is need for this faith to be active—as Saint Paul says, a “faith working through love” (Gal 5:6). The fruitfulness God expects of us coincides with holiness: we are called to be holy, holy like God. But here we have to notice the second important thing that Jesus tells us, “Without me you can do nothing” (Sine me nihil potestis facere). We have to remain in him, as the branches remain on the vine. How can we remain in Christ? John answers this question in the second reading, “Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them.” So, in order for us to remain in Christ, we have to observe his commandments. Which ones? “His commandment is this: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us.” Faith and love, to which we could add prayer and sacraments, are the conditions to be fruitful.

Bearing fruit does not ensure a peaceful life. If we bear fruit, God wants us to bear more fruit. That is why he prunes us. Trials, suffering, temptations are not punishments—as we often think—but the pruning to which God subjects us, so that we may purify ourselves and be more fruitful. Let us accept our pruning as a gift from the hands of God: it is a token of his love for us.