I am the vine (John 15:5)
Wine – as old as mankind?
Wine is an ancient cultural asset. Since the earliest times, people have grown wine, cultivated it, drunk it at festivals and celebrations, and last but not least experienced its intoxicating effect. All of this can also be found in the scriptures of the Bible. In this way, Jesus also takes up the image of the vine in his preaching in order to address a beautiful theme: the bond with God.
Connected or disconnected
The theme of the metaphor of the vine is actually clear. Remain in me, then I will remain in you. And only if you abide in me can you bear rich fruit.
Of course, if I cut the grapes, they can no longer grow, but dry up. And if I detach myself from the mountain guide’s rope during a mountain hike, it’s possible that I’ll slip and, in the worst case, fall. So, it seems sensible to remain connected to the vine or the mountain guide’s rope.
Communion – connection with Christ
In his metaphorical speech, Christ now addresses the connection to him. Only if you abide in me can you bear rich fruit. What does this bond with Christ look like?
Spiritual exercise: how would you describe your communion with Christ? Prayer, having time for him, living up to his commandments…?
Communion subject to conditions?
Jesus himself describes how the connection with him could look like. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love. The sentence reminds me of my school days: If you’re good, I’ll read you something. So, as students, we have to pay in advance before we get anything from the teacher. Is that the same with God? Do we have to earn His grace first?
God takes the first step
The Bible has a different order:
– Vocation narratives: God calls. Then comes the story of the called one; and despite all failures, God does not turn back his calling.
– Rule and serve: Jesus not only speaks of serving, he is the first to do so (washing of feet); to this poem by Goethe: Legend.
– Forgive: Jesus reaches out to people and this radically changes people’s lives. Example: Zacchaeus.
So, it is not man who makes the advance payment, but God. A gracious God.
joy in the gospel
A few years ago, Pope Francis issued an apostolic exhortation. Title: Joy in the Gospel. I enjoyed reading it very much. The Pope’s imagery alone impressed me. “The church is not a customs post, but a father’s house.” And elsewhere “The church is a house with open doors.” Open doors – by this the pope means not only the church doors, but open doors for the people, and open for the sacraments the church. Sacraments are not rewards for a good life, but strengthening for the weak. So, it’s the other way around: we don’t have to make advance payments, but rather God gives his love undeservedly and gratuitously. So, he wants us to stay on the vine and keep in touch with him.
stay in my love
In his first encyclical, Pope Benedict XVI writes: about love He distinguishes between two types of love. One kind is a love that flares up quickly but then dies out just as quickly. The other kind of love grows slowly, but is long-lasting and constant. In his metaphor of the vine, Jesus invites us to search for that abiding love.
In Naples there was once a beautiful habit. If someone was in a particularly good mood and drank an espresso in a bar, they would pay two instead of one. The second coffee was reserved for a guest who would come after him and who could not pay for it. So, a gesture of humanity.
I can well imagine the surprise when someone wants to drink an espresso and doesn’t have to pay for it. Surprises of this kind change life and bring light into the often-dull everyday life. In the Bible one often reads of such surprises.
The fact that there is no direct encounter between the donor and the recipient is remarkable. Poor guy doesn’t know who to thank. This reminds me of the rules of charity in ancient Judaism. There is a room with two doors. The givers enter through one door and deposit their offerings. After they leave, the poor come through the other door and receive the offerings. This does not create any dependency. An act of dignity for the recipient.
But even the donor does not know who is getting his espresso. Maybe a friendly person, but maybe also a completely unsympathetic type. And yet he gets the support. For me, this gesture breathes a vastness that I think is great. I experience that with God. He does not make his donations dependent on sympathy or gratitude. He just gives away. A bountiful vine.
Prelate Dr. Stefan Dybowski
09/09/2022 Monthly Lecture St. Franziskus Hospital, Berlin-Tiergarten
09/20/2022 Monthly Lecture Monastery St. Augustine, Berlin-Lankwitz