Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Vine and the Branches

By Colleen O’Sullivan
Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.”   (Acts 15:1)
(Jesus said:)  “Remain in me, as I remain in you.  Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.  I am the vine, you are the branches.”  (John 15:4-5a)

O Lord, Life-giving Vine, may we ever be anchored in you.

The other afternoon, I was sitting on my patio, enjoying the deep blue sky, the puffy, white clouds, the chance to just relax awhile.  My gaze wandered around the garden, taking in what needs to be done after a long, cold winter.  I smiled as I admired the beautiful blooms already adorning the rose bush.  My thoughts eventually turned to the vine and the branches at the center of today’s Gospel reading.  I tried to picture what they might look like.  What came to mind was a huge, sturdy vine, bright green, impregnable, the source of never-ending life for branches vibrant with a riot of flowers of every shape and hue in the spring and weighed down with the abundant fruits of our labors in the autumn.  The vine that is Christ supports and sustains us in all our wonderful diversity.

But we don’t always picture the vine and the branches in such a manner.  In our reading from the Book of Acts, we find the young church grappling with its first major crisis.  Those who were Jews believed that every Christian should have to observe the Jewish law and that all male followers of Christ should be circumcised as they were.  But where did that leave the growing number of Gentile converts, who knew nothing about the Jewish law?  Did every believer have to come to Christ in the same way?  Do all the blossoms and fruits on the branches have to be identical?  After much discussion and consideration, the early Church concluded that we are all saved through the same grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We are all firmly rooted in the life-giving Vine.  It is in that rootedness and in our faith that we find unity.

Sometimes I wonder if we ever learn anything from history, because we seem to fight the same battles over and over again.  We may be reluctant to admit it, but often we think others ought to be living their faith exactly the way we do.  Whether we’re conservative or liberal, we find fault with the other side.  (The middle-of-the-roaders don’t stand a chance.)  We find ourselves intolerant of types of spirituality and spiritual practices different from our own.  We think everyone else should share our taste in church décor or church music.  The list could go on and on.

It’s good to remind ourselves that the Church, in its earliest days, already decided that what makes us one is our rootedness in Christ, our faith in the one who died and rose for us.  Beyond that, there’s room on the branches for a startlingly beautiful array of blooms and fruits, no two alike but all relying on the same Source for life.

In The Holy Longing, Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI, says the foundation for our church community is not found in like-mindedness or shared ethnicity or a whole host of other things.  We have community because we gather round the same Lord and share in the same Spirit.  (Ch. 6, “A Spirituality of Ecclesiology,” p. 118).   What intolerances could you set aside in order to focus more on the Christ who brings us together? 

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