Worldly man would love to be free, totally free. His ceaseless yearning and striving for an existence unfettered by any constraint, even God, finds its sad, and often ugly expression everywhere today. The public canvas on which he paints his desire for independence, freedom from illness, old age, and death is, most obviously, the media. The proliferation of superhero movies whose main characters have strange, awesome powers, travelling at will through time and space, is but one example.
Nevertheless, it is worth remarking that at the other end of the spectrum there are equally fanciful disaster movies in which blind forces of nature overwhelm human individuality and tens of thousands are indiscriminately swept to their death. Sociologists and psychologists have endless learned discussions on this phenomenon; Jesus just puts before us a grapevine.
There are many varieties of grapevine today but all of them have the single purpose of bearing good quality, abundant fruit. For this a good vinedresser is essential. He cuts away some branches and prunes others, until the vine reaches its full potential.
But Jesus says:
- I am the true vine.
- You are the branches
- The Father is the vinedresser
The image becomes a metaphor whose logic is inescapable.
- Branches without fruit are cut away and thrown away. They wither. They are collected, thrown on the fire, and they are burnt. In case we are hard of hearing or just slow learners the process is deliberately and carefully spelled out: cut away, thrown away, wither, collected, thrown on the fire, burnt.
- Branches that do bear fruit are pruned to make them bear even more.
If nothing else the metaphor does violence to our worldly, godless notions of ‘independent living’. What’s more, it robs us of any temptation we might entertain of making a distinction between living and bearing fruit; they are co-terminus. The branch which does not bear fruit forfeits its life.
Jesus offers a straightforward paradigm of human existence which leaves no room for self reliance, self-directed pride, or doing things ‘My Way’, as the song fantasizes. And a final, ‘in your face’ indignity is set before the nonbeliever, it is all done ‘to the glory of my Father’.
The paradigm of dependence and the need to be ‘connected’ to God by obeying his will is one that Jesus himself wholeheartedly lived, and the ‘fruit’ of salvation which he bore is a direct product of his flawless attachment to God’s will. You may have noticed it, a curious thing, in last week's gospel?
Jesus was ‘commanded’ by his Father to lay down his life ‘of his own free will’.
In the army we were occasionally ordered to volunteer but we all understood and appreciated the joke.
The gospel intends no frivolity here though; Jesus was deadly serious: No one takes it .. (his life) .. from me; I lay it down of my own free will … and this is the command I have been given by my Father.
This is the true freedom of the Son of God - to do the will of the Father - and to do it of his own free will. This is the ground of his existence as it is the ground of our existence. This is the truth about Jesus and it is the truth about ourselves. We were made by God, we belong to God, we can live only by remaining in God.
Cardinal Pell’s annual Pentecost pastoral letter to young people is entitled this year: No Truth, No Freedom. Since the Truth is a person, Jesus Christ, we might put this title another way: No Jesus, No Freedom.
Jesus’ metaphor places before us a reality which we, his disciples, joyfully accept. As he bore fruit through his unity with the Father so he commands, yes, commands us to do likewise. The imperatives are everywhere: Make your home in me … a branch must remain part of the vine … Remain in me… .
We welcome this sweet slavery as true freedom and of our own free will we live our communion with him every day. We live in him, and he lives in us and we pray that the vinedresser will prune us to bear more and more fruit for his glory.