The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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May 19, 2000 Issue
Fr. Ver Bust's Column:
"Explaining the Gospel"

Fr. Richard Ver Bust
Fr. Richard Ver Bust

Life flows from the vine to the branches

The way in which life flourishes is based upon an acceptance of Christ

May 21, Fifth Sunday of Easter

By Fr. Richard Ver Bust

In our gospel reading for this Sunday, John presents to us the way in which he perceived the meaning and role of Jesus. He began his gospel by telling us that God became a human person with his words, "And the Word became flesh." His gospel develops from that opening thought.

In today's reading John uses the imagery of a vine and branches. We know that the Old Testament had frequently used the imagery of a vineyard to portray the relationship between God and Israel. Remember how Isaiah in chapter five sang a song in which God had cared for Israel and how he had used the vineyard as an image of Israel.

Even though it is not our responsorial psalm read Psalm 80 which begins by calling God the shepherd of Israel and then goes on to speak about how God had brought the vine from Egypt. The psalm asks God to tend to the vine.

John changes the imagery a bit now by speaking about the vine and its branches. Jesus' audience would have understood this image easily for throughout the land of Israel, people cultivated vines to produce wine. They would even have understood the process of pruning the vine. So when Jesus speaks of himself as the vine, the vineyard still belongs to God. God does the pruning.

John wants to emphasize in this imagery the nature of the relationship between Jesus and his followers. It is a relationship that is intimate. Life flows from the vine to the branches. Because of that life, the vine, through its branches, bears fruit.

While the vine does not depend totally upon the branches, the branches cannot live without the vine. They would wither and die. Yet without the branches the vine cannot bear fruit.

So the imagery helps us to understand the intimacy between Christ and his followers. The disciples of Jesus live because of Christ. The life that flows from Christ to the disciples is not just fluid but a supernatural life that helps all the disciples truly live. It is through the life of the disciples that the full life of the vine produces and grows.

The imagery of this relationship emphasizes vitality. The vine and branches, Christ and his disciples are alive with the life of God. The way in which this life flourishes is based upon an acceptance of Christ and his words. It establishes a sense of identity for the disciples.

Our first reading follows the conversion of Saul, or as we know him better Paul, in which he had found this close relationship between Christ and followers in Christ' words, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting." Paul now, in our reading, becomes a transformed believer and brings the good news to others.

In our second reading the followers of Jesus are called upon to express their belief by loving one another. They are to love in real deed and truth. In all this we learn that the church, made up of disciples of Jesus, lives and prospers when it is lives and acts with the life of Jesus.

We then are a community of believers who share a divine life given to us by Christ. We grow and live intimately united to Christ and one another.

(Fr. Ver Bust is professor emeritus in religious studies at St. Norbert College, De Pere.)

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