1 John 3:18-24
In the Old Testament, Israel is frequently portrayed as God's choice vine (or vineyard); one that God nurtures with care but produces bitter fruits nonetheless (rf Hos 10:1, Is 5:1-7, Ez 17:5-10, Ps 79: 9-17). In today's Gospel reading, Jesus proclaims that He is the vine, the vine of the New Israel. In union with Him, Christians of the New Israel will bear fruits that are pleasing to God the vine-dresser (rf Jn 15:5, 8). In the Old Testament, God often threatens to prune or even uproot the unproductive vine (rf Is 5:1-7, Jer 2:21, Ez 15:1-6, 19:10-14). In today's Gospel reading, Jesus says those who do not abide in Him will be cast out, withered and burned in fire (rf Jn 15:6). In the Old Testament, Abraham is the ideal; he is the friend of God (rf Is 41:8, 2 Chr 20:7). In today's Gospel reading, Jesus' disciples outshine that of Abraham for abiding in Jesus, they can ask whatever they will and it shall be done to them (rf Jn 15:7).
Abiding in Jesus is of paramount importance. When Jesus speaks of the union with Him, it is not meant to be understood metaphorically or symbolically. It is not a moral or intellectual union either but a reality of our life in Christ, the reality of divine indwelling. This divine indwelling (perichoresis in Greek) is not a one-way imposition but a mutual interpersonal bond, an active and a passive relationship. It is active because it is something we have to do – “abide in me”; it is passive because we have to let Jesus to do in us – “as I abide in you” (Jn 15:4). It is like the relationship of the three Divine Persons of the Trinity, that of “being-in-one-another” and this is what makes Christian life peculiar. St. Paul describes this relationship effectively in his epistle to the Galatians “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).
Through Baptism, we bear the name of Christ as Christians and are able to share in His life. This reality is brought about in two ways. Externally, it is through the Sacraments. Our participation in the Church’s sacramental life is a participation in the mystery of God’s life. The experience of mutual indwelling is especially effected through the Blessed Eucharist (Holy Communion). Jesus Himself bears witness to the reality of this union when He said, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I in him” (Jn 6:56). Internally, this union with Jesus is a process of becoming Christ-like. Just like the life of the vine reproduces in the branches and causes them to bear fruits, Jesus works in us and reproduces His life in us. And the logical consequence of this mutual indwelling will be that of the imitation of Christ.
Identifying ourselves with Jesus is a choice. Abiding in Him is the will. When we deliberately decide to allow time for Jesus, to pray and talk to Him, to listen and read His words, to obey and do what He says and let go of things in our old life that are not Christ-like, we endeavour to be united with Him. Then in Christ's view and with Christ's mind, He will produce the fruit in us just like the vine brings forth fruits to the branches naturally (as long as the branches stay with the vine). The fruit is Christ-likeness – the likeness of God (rf Jn 10:30, 14:9).
How great is our privilege that God Himself shares His life with us through His son, Jesus. This privilege to share in the communion of the divine life is a work accomplished by Jesus for us. As God's adopted children, we can now partake in the transcendent life of the Divinity here on earth (rf Gal 4:6, Rm 8:15, Heb 5:7). But it is absolutely necessary for us to be abound in Jesus in order to be transformed into God’s likeness. From Jesus the Vine comes the natural outflow of life and He is the source of our never ending renewal and transformation.