Saint Peter the Apostle Parish Naples, FL
Acts 9, 26-31 Psalm 22 1 John 3, 18-24 John 15, 1-8
It is the night before his crucifixion when Jesus speaks these words to his disciples. To have these words speak to us we must remember context in which they were spoken. There is a mood of intensity. He senses what is to come. His death is now inevitable, and he probably knows he cannot count on these disciples to do anything about it. True to their previous ways, they probably do not quite get what is happening; but we know how they will be scattered and separated from him in the hours and days to come. He does not want this to happen. The relationship that promises life and gives hope must be preserved, because it is only in the relationship that he enjoys with the Father and shares with them that his life and his mission can be accomplished. REMAIN, he says. STAY!
To make the point, he uses the familiar image of vine, branches, and the vine grower. It is an image that carries a powerful message of dependence and mutuality. The grower needs the vine, and the vine needs the grower, and they both need the branches. There can be no fruit if these relationships are not sustained. As he prepares himself to leave the disciples, he gives them this image to sustain their hope when their hearts are troubled and they are scattered with broken dreams. It is an image of profound reliance and dependence because life is nothing without belonging, intimacy, and relationships.
Alone we can nothing. Alone we are nothing. Against this kind of independence and individuality Jesus speaks. His teaching is just as needed today as it was the night before the disciples were challenged by his death. This age in which we live and proclaim this Gospel pretends that we are more connected than ever with news, information, the internet, email, and social media opportunities at our fingertips. Yet while we are all “linked in” all over the place, rates of loneliness and depression are greater than ever. While we are all connected electronically, we are starved for the actual experience of being in a real relationship. There is a difference between being connected and being in a relationship, and this may well be what Jesus offers. Connections do not nourish life, and while they might make money, they do not bear fruit, the fruit of joy and peace, love, and life in abundance.
Jesus speaks to us about relationships, about belonging, and about remaining with one another, with him and through him with the Father. In that experience of a loving relationship, we are free: free to be ourselves, free to make mistakes, free to fail, confess our hopes and dreams, fears and disappointments. In this relationship we are accepted, loved, and forgiven by a God who loves the whole world enough to send his only Son. This knowledge and experience allows us to do the same with and be the same for each other: accepting, patient with the imperfections and flaws of others because we all have them.
This kind of life together is fruitful, because there is no fruit from a broken branch. None of us can realize our potential and become anything at all without someone else who believes in us, teaches, leads, guides, forgives, and provides for us. Bearing fruit demands dependence, and dependence requires connection and belonging. As soon as anyone thinks they can produce anything on their own, they are on a path to emptiness and despair. Their lives will be barren and empty.
Bearing fruit has everything to do with relationship. It is risky business because it reveals who you are and on whom and what you depend. It exposes a lack of self-sufficiency. It shows others that there is no other way to be but to be dependent, and in an age that seems to thrive on independence and individuality, this becomes a challenge that sets us apart. Many think it is weakness to be dependent. Many think ties should be broken, and that this is the only way to self-actualization and autonomy, but not so those who hear Jesus speak about vines and branches. Belong matters. Relationships are essential. This is what makes church, and it creates family. We who gather in this place as church are reminded once again that we are expected to bear fruit. We can do so only because we are alive and dependent upon one another. Having remained in Christ and having Christ remain in us, we are with the Father.
Remember friends, fruit bears, protects, and nurtures seeds. Fruit holds the promise of continued life without end. We are the fruit of those who have gone before us, and in as much as we do remain, stay, and abide, the seed of faith, the seed of hope, and the very seed of life will spring to life. The fruit that we bear will produce what we are. Apples produce apples. Grapes produce grapes. Faithful, Holy, Joyful and, Grateful people produce more children of God like themselves, and as they remain on the vine will build up and bring the mission of Jesus Christ and the Will of Father to fulfillment.