Christ the True Vine (icon), 16th century, Byzantine and Christian Museum, Athens, Greece.
I read in the newspaper this week there is a global wine shortage caused by unusually cold and wet weather in Europe, resulting in the smallest grape harvest since World War II. This wine-related news was on my mind as I read the Gospel for this fifth Sunday of Easter (John 15:1-8). In this passage, Jesus uses symbolic language of the vineyard to explain his relationship with his followers. In one of his famous “I am” sayings, our Lord describes himself as the “true vine” and encourages his disciples to “abide” in him. Abiding in Jesus results in bearing fruit. Those who do not bear fruit are removed from the vine.
How do we abide in Jesus? That is, how can we stay connected to him? This question gets to the heart of salvation. To be saved initially, under normal circumstances, we must repent, believe, and be baptized. To maintain our salvation, to stay connected to Jesus, we must repent, believe, and confess mortal sin whenever we become aware of it. The consequence of not staying connected to Jesus is catastrophic: “If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned” (v. 6). Although troubling, the language of damnation is unmistakable here.
In the very next verse after the Gospel reading, Jesus says “Abide in my love” (v. 9). Thus, Jesus equates abiding in him with abiding in love. In 1 John 4:8 we read, “Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.” Love is not a sentimental feeling, but a self-giving, self-sacrificing action. If you want to know what love looks like, gaze at Jesus on the cross!
Jesus reveals his love to us through his Word, which tells of his sacrificial death, and in the sacrament of the Eucharist. The same Jesus who said “Abide in me” meets us in the Sacrament of his body and blood. The vine is both a Christological and a Eucharistic symbol. As Catholics, we believe that “in the communion . . . the faithful receive ‘the bread of heaven’ and ‘the cup of salvation,’ the body and blood of Christ who offered himself ‘for the life of the world’ (CCC, 1355). One important way to stay connected to Jesus and his love is through frequent reception of the Eucharist.
Although there may be a shortage of wine this year, there can never be a shortage of God’s love.