The Nazareth Page - A gospel meditation for the home
April 29, 2018 – Fifth Sunday of Easter
Jesus was a brilliant communicator. He illustrated his teaching of deep truths using images, symbols and examples that his listeners could understand. Last week, it was sheep and shepherds. The week before the gospel featured broiled fish. This week we find ourselves in a vineyard. His home land was dotted with vineyards. Not like the large commercial vineyards of California and Washington. But much more local. A few vines connected with ordinary homes. They might be called “backyard wineries.” They produced just enough for the family and maybe a few extra containers for neighbors and friends. Still, the vines were precious to those who had them. And they were carefully attended to.
People knew how important it was to care for both vine stock and branches. The substance of the grapes came out of the soil, through the vines and into the branches. Eventually the grapes benefited from this wondrous system of production. All of this needed year-round attention. Nourishing the soil, protecting the vines and pruning the branches could not be overlooked. There was a direct connection between caring for the vines and branches and the wine that would reach the family’s table. This was common knowledge.
When Jesus wanted his listeners to understand and appreciate the vital connection between him and them, what better image to use than the connection between a vine and its branches? No one would say that they didn’t understand his point.
But what does the connection mean for us? It has to do with vitality and fruitfulness. First, relationships provide us with life. Recent studies of those called “the vital elderly,” or those living full lives into their 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, show a clear connection between vitality and healthy human and spiritual relationships. Maintaining close and regular contact with family, friends, neighbors and even strangers contributes to the maintaining of personal liveliness, the joy of living and even overall physical and emotional health. Staying connected makes our lives not only more interesting, but more lively.
The same can be said about our connection with God. Active involvement in a religious tradition, personal prayer, meditation and expressing one’s spiritual and religious convictions in active service of others all contribute to personal vitality.
Fruitfulness comes from extending oneself outside the narrowness of just living for oneself. One takes an interest in others, in their views and in response to their needs. It means quite simply actively loving one’s neighbor, connecting the vine with the branches.
©David M. Thomas, PhD