Throughout the Gospel of John the author gives us many other images where Jesus says “I am.” Jesus says, “I am the bread of life,” “I am the Good Shepherd,” “I am the living water.”
These wonderful images talk about the necessity of our being nourished and protected by Jesus. Yet the image of the vine and the branches goes even further. Our Lord tells us that our life flows directly from his life. We are so united that we do not really exist without him.
Without Christ we would not be truly alive. He told us, “Without me you can do nothing.” Without being united to Jesus, we have the appearance of being alive. In reality we are merely existing. Henry David Thoreau got it right when he said, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”; someone added, “And they die with their song still inside them.”
Real or authentic life is the life of a person who abides in Christ. A fake life is the life of persons who think that they can do anything without Christ. If we try to live only out of our own resources, then we are not really living.
Jesus warns us not to cut ourselves off from our life source. If we are cut off, we will not bear any fruit. Not bearing fruit could be our refusal to go out of ourselves, pretending that we are self-sufficient, closing our hearts to those in need of our attention, our concern, our financial resources. We may be efficient at work or at home, but inside we are little better than dead.
When Jesus invites us to abide in him, what does “abide” really mean? When we abide in Christ, we will have the chance of becoming authentic persons. Instead of our own self-interest being the source of our behavior, it will be our oneness with Christ.
This may sound rather vague but let’s look at the image of the branch that lives in the vine. It draws its vitality and strength from the vine and it knows that it can withstand all kinds of harsh weather because it can rely on the strength of the vine. It does not stand alone.
In our own lives when the harsh weather of loss, fear, pain, or separation comes, if we are firmly united to Jesus we will not have to go through these experiences alone. The lives of the saints prove this repeatedly. They were not free from pain or loss. Yet they were firm in their love of Christ and could endure things about which we can only wonder.
Jesus wants us to bear good fruit. However, we cannot bear good fruit if we have hatred in our hearts. When we hate our enemies, the hatred is not in the enemy, the hatred is in our hearts. That hatred stops the flow of God’s love from producing good works in us.
To love others we have to overcome our prejudices and fears. We have to recognize that other persons have dignity and are our equals. This involves the hard work of conversion. We have to ask ourselves, what are my prejudices? What are my fears?
A woman who lived through the holocaust is still a person of faith. Somebody questioned her about how she could have faith in a God who would let something like the holocaust happen?
Her response was, “It wasn’t that God let it happen; God was there. However, God did not have enough friends on earth willing to do anything about it.” You see, Jesus abides in us and we must abide in him. As we grow stronger in our faith, then we have the courage to give ourselves for others.
Maybe in preparation for Pentecost, we might identify the gifts of all the people in our community, celebrate them, and allow them to be used for the building up of God’s kingdom.