By Sarah Christmyer
Five times in today’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples to “remain in me.” They have just left the Last Supper and are on their way to the Mt. of Olives.
“Remain in me,” he says — even though he knows he won’t be around; the very next day he will go to the Father.
Perhaps they are passing grapevines as he tells them that he is the true vine and his Father is the vine grower. It’s Spring, a time when branches are kept carefully pruned back in order to set them up for maximum yield come summer.
“You are the branches” on me, the vine, he says. A branch can’t bear fruit by itself – and neither can you be fruitful if you don’t remain in me, attached to me, with my life flowing through you like the life of the vine flows through its branches.
They don’t know it yet, but the side-by-side relationship they’ve enjoyed with Jesus is about to be replaced by something far deeper: a one-ness that is less like co-laborers in a vineyard than it is like being part of the vine.
Like a grapevine in winter, this new reality starts out looking like death. But it’s the winter that allows the vine to put energy into deep roots, so it can drink when there’s a drought. It’s the winter that gives the branches rest and gives the vine grower easy access to trim them back so those that remain will grow strong.
If it were possible for a branch to “take off” in the winter or during the spring pruning — if it could leave the vine for somewhere more pleasant, easier, where it can grow long and cover itself with leaves — no fruit would come. A branch must remain where it is and draw its strength from the vine.
Applying this to myself, I wonder: how often do I force a side-by-side relationship with Jesus instead of remaining in him and allowing him to live through me? How often, when it seems as though he’s not active, am I tempted to get up and leave – or to get started on my own power?
Rather than drawing my strength from the Lord and waiting on his plan and timing, sometimes I prefer to do my own thing. When “winter” comes, I get antsy. So instead of taking that time to send my roots deep into his word and sacraments and filling myself up with him, I spend my strength growing lovely long branches with lots of showy leaves. I set out to accomplish my own works, essentially hanging fruit on the branches of my life.
It’s not enough to be a decorative branch. It may look good but it can’t carry life like a branch connected to the vine.
Jesus wants “fruit that remains.” Fruit that lasts, that feeds others and reproduces. And he wants to bear fruit in me (and you!). The vine-grower has only our flourishing in mind, even when it seems we’ve been abandoned or when we can feel the cut of the knife. He chose us to bear fruit and he will make us fruitful, in his time and in his way.
John 15 reminds me:
Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit,
Because without me you can do nothing. […]
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.
Lord, help me to remain in you. Feed me, fill me with your life-giving water. And whatever drought or difficulties come my way, help me to trust myself to the loving hands of the Father.
About the Author:
Sarah Christmyer is co-developer and founding editor of The Great Adventure Catholic Bible study program. The author of numerous Bible studies and several guided journals for Bible reading, she speaks at conferences and retreats on topics related to Scripture and the Catholic faith. She teaches at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Philadelphia. Follow her blog at ComeIntotheWord.com.