I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. John 15:1-11.
In the Gospel reading from today’s Daily Office, we find Jesus talking about His favorite topic: relationships. I think Jesus cared more deeply about this subject than virtually any other, and perhaps we should, too. In this remarkable passage, Jesus addresses our relationships with Him, with God the Father, and with each other. I believe the refrain within this passage provides the key to Jesus’ meaning. St. John uses the word “abide” eight times, so we should probably understand the sense in which he uses it.
One of the greatest problems we encounter in modernity is that vast number of people who feel adrift, who feel isolated from the world and cut off from anything that offers meaning in their lives. As Willy Loman observed in Death of a Salesman, “After all the highways, and the trains, and the appointments, and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive.” Jesus compared such lives to a branch cut away from the vine, which will ultimately wither. He observed that “the branch cannot bear fruit unless it abides in the vine”.
All of us sometimes feel cut off from our source, and Jesus offers us the remedy: “abide in me”, “abide in my love”. Too often, we try to make our way alone. We forget that relationships provide the very basis of the spiritual life. To “abide with” means to participate in a very special sort of relationship. To abide with Jesus and to abide in His love means that we will make Christ our spiritual home.
As with all relationships, abiding with Jesus involves a reciprocal settlement, a complementary arrangement. Jesus said, “Abide in me as I abide in you.” Thus, we should ask ourselves, “What sort of dwelling place have I prepared for the Lord?” Jesus calls us not simply to remain with Him, but also to make a home for Him in our lives. Unless we permit this mutual indwelling of Christ, we will find ourselves spiritually “dying on the vine”.
St. John does not suggest that we admire Jesus as a historical figure from the past, or that we attempt to emulate something that was quite wonderful once. To abide with Christ does not mean that we merely prepare for that day in the future when we might see Him. Abiding with Jesus means to make our home with Him here and now. The term implies persevering, remaining true, and lasting steadily. When we abide with Christ, we will share St. Paul’s conviction “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39.
Abiding connotes that we will remain with Jesus, and He will remain with us. Like the branches on the vine, our continued existence depends on remaining connected to the Source of our lives. If we allow the Word to make a home within our lives, we will feel the Divine pulsing and surging across all creation. At that point, this holy relationship begins to determine how we act and how we love. Thus, keeping the commandments becomes less like a burden, and more like a presence. We are thereby grafted onto the tree of life, grafted onto the life of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I think that’s exactly what St. John had in mind when he wrote about a time when our joy would be complete.
I wish you the joy of God’s presence,
James R. Dennis, O.P.
© 2012 James R. Dennis