Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.’
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit.’
I have to begin this reflection by admitting that no-one could ever describe me as a keen gardener. I enjoy visiting gardens and admiring the skill of those who can cultivate and nurture the wonders of God’s creation, but I have no specialist knowledge when it comes to planting, weeding and all the other things a gardener has to do. However, having declared my lack of knowledge and skill in horticultural matters, I can say that I do understand the need for pruning. If plants are to remain healthy, and if they are to flourish, there needs to be pruning. It is this process of cutting away that which is harmful and unproductive that Jesus speaks of today. But, of course, Jesus is not really speaking of the plants that beautify our gardens or provide us with food. Jesus is speaking of the branches that grow out of his life and ministry. He is speaking of those who claim to be Christian but whose faith is arid and inhibiting in its lack of joy.
When we read the opening chapters of the Acts of the Apostles we are presented with a picture of how the early Church came into being. We read of praise, worship and joy; we read of mutual support, love and joy; we read of self-sacrifice, prayerful support and joy. When Jesus speaks of the removal of every branch in me that bears no fruit, he is speaking of those who inhibit the life and growth of others through their lack of joy.
We should not be surprised by Jesus’ words to us today. In Matthew’s gospel (Chapter 18, verses 15-17) Jesus makes it plain that we should give those who struggle with the joy of the Christian faith every opportunity to repent and follow a different path. But, in the same passage he makes it clear that those who flatly refuse to come into communion with the community of faith should join those who are cast out.
To prune is to remove the superfluous and the damaging; to prune is to remove that which inhibits the growth of the healthier branches. Today we are being challenged to go forward in faith and in joy. We are also being challenged to confront that which stands in the path of Christ’s mission and ministry and to remove it if that is the only way forward. Today we are being challenged to fight the good fight and to not allow ourselves to be distracted by the petty and self-interested. Let us pray for the strength to take up our spiritual pruning shears and do God’s work in this troubled world, in order that all might be given the opportunity to know the light, the love and the joy of being a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.