“I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit” (John 15:4).
While there are few parables per se in John’s Gospel, the metaphor of the vine and the branches enabled the evangelist to express a great deal about Jesus' relationship with his disciples, and with us, the church.
First of all, baptism unites us to Jesus in an intimate, life-sustaining way. We are not just members of the group; we are incorporated into the risen Christ. What the Eucharist affirms is echoed in the union of vine and branches, namely that the very flow of vitality we need to be other Christs is not just an aspect of our lives: It is our life, our very existence. Separate from that source we have no life. Cut from the vine, a branch withers. Without the sap and nutrients flowing from the plant rooted in the earth, we bear no fruit, i.e., no gracious, redemptive activity or influence can flow through us to the community or the world.
Second, a necessary part of increasing the yield from the grape vine is pruning. A disciple can expect to be pruned of extraneous or unfocused activity in order to direct their energy into what is truly productive in God’s eyes. Gardeners who want the perfect rose understand this as they prune away others to concentrate the life of the bush into the prize rose. People in ministry learn quickly that too many activities only lead to exhaustion. Better to do one thing well, go for depth rather than distance, quality over quantity. Choose something you can throw your heart into, that gives you joy, and you will accomplish more good than the busiest apostle eager to save the world.
When Jesus says that his disciples are “consecrated,” the word implies being set apart, cut from everything except the mission. The verb “to decide” has the same meaning. To choose one thing is to set aside everything else. People who try to keep all their options open indefinitely accomplish little and enjoy none of the benefits of commitment. Trail boss “Curly” in the movie “City Slickers,” says that the secret of life is to focus on “one thing.” It doesn’t matter what it is, but if you want to be fulfilled, do one thing well.
Our Communion with Christ is the “one thing” that empowers us to do everything else God asks of us. Renewing our minds and hearts at the Table of the Lord is the secret of holiness and effective service. We cannot give what we don’t have.