I suspect that many of us are nature lovers since we live in a world that is virtually concrete. Winters are often cold or rainy or snowy–or all three at virtually the same time. When spring arrives we see signs of new growth. Plants begin to blossom and give us thoughts of new life. It must have been great for farmers to have seen this.
When Jesus spoke to the people, a fair percentage of them were farmers. So in the Gospel for the Fifth Sunday of Easter (John 15:1-8) many of his listeners knew what he meant when he spoke to them of the vine and the branches.
He begins by saying that he is the “true vine” and his Father is the “vine grower.” The branches that are connected to him flourish, and those that bear no fruit are clipped off. It seems that the key point in the Gospel is Jesus’ invitation to “abide in me.” Why? Because without the direct connection to Jesus the “vine,” the “branches” bear no fruit.
What does this mean? Throughout his life Jesus gave multiple examples of how to treat the neighbor which was the principal message he gave his disciples. Today’s Gospel tells us that the best way to do this is to “abide” in Jesus, because abiding in Jesus seems to be the best way to follow his example.
But, how does one “abide” in Jesus? Today’s Gospel gives us some ideas. For example, when we commit sin we are not abiding in Jesus the “vine,” and as “branches” we will be cut off. However, as “branches” we can “abide” in Jesus by reflecting seriously on that imagery.
We can see the vine as a Eucharistic symbol, and thus see a connection with the sacraments as a way of “abiding” in Jesus. Jesus said at the last supper as he held up the bread, “…This is my body.” (Matthew 26:26) This reference is to the Eucharist. Then there is also the question of the fruitful vine–bearing grapes. Reference to the wine at the Eucharist I would imagine.
To abide in Jesus is what today’s Gospel tells us to do. For without Jesus we can do nothing. To abide in Jesus reminds us of our baptismal obligation to be of service to/for others. This obligation is fortified by our frequent reception of the bread and wine of the Eucharist.
So the next time that we feel overwhelmed by our concrete surroundings, a serious look at the wonders of nature, with plants and trees growing and blossoming, we can be reminded of death and resurrection in our own situations. But, I suspect, one has to be a nature lover to truly appreciate the experience.