A search for a favourite word of John in his gospel would easily lead to the Greek verb meno which is usually translated as “abide/remain”. The word signals a relationship. It suggests a relationship with deep attachment, loyalty and constant union in contrast to a contact which may be intense but short lived with no lasting effect. The metaphor of the grapevine in today's Gospel Reading is simple and straightforward - the vine is Jesus, the branches are the disciples, the pruner is the Father and the fruit is the outcome of the relationship. To abide in Jesus is to be attached to Him in such a way that life would be impossible without Him. It may sound exaggerated, but just as a branch has no life unless it is attached to the vine, so the life of a disciple would only be a shadow if s/he does not establish a close bond with Jesus who is the real source of life.
As we are Jesus' disciples, let us look at the analogy of the branches. There are three different kinds of branches. The first kind is those that are being cut off for not bearing fruit. Understandably, these are the ones that have not received nourishment. Jesus makes it clear, “a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine” (Jn 15:4) The key is to “remain on the vine” (that is, abide in Jesus) in order to have nourishment. Believing in Jesus while not practising our faith is not remaining on the vine. Nourishment from Jesus comes through His Church. As Jesus says “without me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5), so a branch on its own cannot live but wither and “will be thrown out” (Jn 15:6).
The next kind is those being pruned. These are the ones which bear some fruits but need pruning so that they can bear more fruits. Undoubtedly, the process of being pruned is not a good experience but it is a necessary step for a healthier growth. Trials and tribulations are the tools of God's pruning. In the First Reading, St. Paul faces distrust, hostility and even threats of death. All these are God's ways of pruning in order to strengthen and prepare him to be the future Apostle of the Gentiles (rf Acts 9:15-16). “Everyone that [bears fruit] he prunes so that it bears more fruit” (Jn 15:2). The key is to persevere and let the pruner's hands do what He knows is the best.
The last kind is those that bear fruits. Although the fruits are on the branches but it is not the branches that yield fruits, it is the vine which gives life to the branches and makes them bear fruits. Jesus says, “whoever remain in me and I in him will bear much fruit” (Jn 15:5). But how to remain in Jesus and become a fruitful branch? “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you” (Jn 15:7). So abiding in Jesus goes hand in hand with abiding in His words and that is, keeping His commandments. “Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love” (Jn 15: 9-10). When we keep His commandments, we abide with Jesus and live His love. A love which we can draw meaning, inspiration and nourishment; a love which reaches out and benefits others, bearing fruits just as He does.
Dear friends, what kind of branches do we belong to? Are we receiving enough nourishment or at the risk of being thrown out? Are we undergoing pruning patiently or are we struggling to stay on the vine? Are we growing steadily each day, giving delight to the vine dresser with our fruits glorifying Him? No matter which kind of branches we are now, we can always choose to become a fruitful branch. The choice is ours.