May 2, 2021 at St. Peter the Apostle in Naples, FL
Acts 9, 26-31 + Psalm 22 + 1 John 3, 18-24 + John 15, 1-8
Seven times in John’s Gospel Jesus says: “I am”. There might be a test on this, so pay attention. I am the Bread of Life. He who comes to me shall never hunger. I am the Light of the World. He who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life. I am the Door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep. I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though they may die shall live. I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. Then, the final one spoken at the last supper: I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Each of these statements can lead us deeper into the identity of Jesus which is exactly what he is doing as he speaks to the apostles and to us today.
The Last Supper is the only place where Jesus uses the image of the vine, but it repeats a theme that echoes throughout the Gospel of John. It is that Jesus “stays” or “remains in” his disciples, and that they “stay” or “remain in” him. For example, when Jesus asks the first disciples what they want, they do not ask him “Where are you going?” But they ask, “Where are you staying?” It is always about the ongoing presence of Jesus within his disciples. It is always the revelation through Jesus Christ that God is with us. God stays. And so, it is always about relationships. Jesus speaks of his relationship with the Father and the Father’s relationship to him, and then he speaks of our relationship to him and with and through him we have a relationship with the Father. In these verses today, Jesus uses an image those apostles could easily understand. They understood the mutual dependence of branches and vines. Each of the I AM statements is an invitation to relationship with him.
When we affirm and remember that relationship, just like the branches that remain on the vine, fruit will flourish. It is up to us. We are the ones who choose to bear fruit or to choke ourselves off from the vine. The vine that nourishes the branches an only do so if we remain on the vine. We have to continually choose who we want to be. We are offered the option of being fruitful branches. The vine, Jesus Christ in his church can only feed us when we choose to stay with the one who stays.
The image of Jesus as the vine with us as branches finishes all the other I AM proclamations. This image goes beyond all that he has said before, and it paints a picture of what he would later pray for: “May all be one, as you Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us.” Our faith and our future rests up on our choice to be one, to be church, to be in Christ and through Christ return to the One who has made us and called us his own. In John’s Gospel, belief in Jesus is not an intellectual exercise. It is the motivator of all our activity. A people who are living like branches on the fine will be a people who do something and are identified not by a name like “Christian” or “Catholic” by what they do out of love, and the fruit will be the peace of God’s Kingdom. We must all be doers of the Word, not just readers or listeners, and that is our choice.