In this Sunday’s Gospel Jesus represents himself as the true vine. I can imagine Jesus and his followers walking through the hills of Jerusalem. Can you see Jesus reaching out and taking a vine in his hands, using it to illustrate the relationship he desired to have with his followers? In Jesus’ day, a fruit grower would not tolerate a barren fruit tree. He would cut it down, burn it and plant another. They also would have known whose fields yielded the sweetest grapes. The owners of those vineyards would have been honored for the produce.
The symbol of the grapevine remains powerful in our Catholic faith. Look around your parish church. Most likely, you will find at least one motif of the grapevine. Do you see it in your stained glass windows or as ornamentation on a vestment? Can you find the vine and branches in plaster reliefs around a pillar or as carved wooden ornamentation or a design on the stem of a Communion cup?
When you see this symbol, your first thought may be of the Eucharist. Jesus used wine, “the fruit of the vine,” to be transformed into his very blood in the Eucharist. The grapes spill forth juice in the same manner as blood spilled forth from Jesus as he died upon the cross.
However, the grapevine in our Christian art should also speak to us of our unity with Jesus and with one another. As vines draw upon the stalk for nourishment, so we draw upon Jesus. United to him, we endure the pruning needed for our spiritual life to flourish and grow.
Each of us has experienced this pruning in the form of sickness, hardships or loss of material possessions. It may be persecution or slander from others. For some, it is the loss of a loved one or grief in a relationship. Alternatively, it may be a combination of difficulties. Oftentimes, it is this very pruning that assists us in being more closely united to one another.
If you have ever tried to remove a grapevine from a fence or trellis, you know how tenacious the plant can be. Each tendril wraps itself around another creating a strong wall to stand against anything that could harm the plant. In the same way, we are called to be united to one another with Christ’s love, tending to one another in times of struggle. Pruning can hurt and leave us wondering if God is really listening. It may seem we are the only branch getting pruned while other branches need it more. Let us hold tight in charity and compassion, letting our fruit bring honor to Christ. The vinedresser knows what he is doing.
Zahorik is director of worship at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish in Oshkosh.