Whenever Jesus wants to convey a difficult spiritual concept, he resorts to timeless images of daily living. Thus, his Words of Life are forever associated with pictures from the life that we live ourselves or with which we are somewhat familiar. Here are some samples: a vine and its branches, a vinedresser, yeast, seeds, grass, flowers, birds of the air, a hidden treasure, a general waging war, a widow in distress.
For the 5th Sunday of Easter, Jesus uses the image of a vine in a church that serves primarily the spiritual needs of Italians and of people of Italian descent. Chances are that quite a few of us might know a thing or two about wine, the fruit of the vine. That makes my task easier; and, if you keep in mind that next Sunday is Mother’s Day, my job becomes a piece of cake because I intend to use Moms and Dads as the epitome of genuine love experienced by us on a daily basis.
“Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.”
Simply put, we are called to imitate the love displayed by our parents around the clock and not to be content with cheap imitations like the promises of politicians on the campaign trail or like what we are exposed to by the world of entertainment. Not hot air, not vague promises but factual, concrete, often pain-tested love. This is exactly what Jesus means by the following words: “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit…”
Who bears more fruit of love than a parent who is a disciple of Jesus Christ?
To continue with the same analogy of the vine and its fruit, i.e., good wine from good grapes let me point out to you that good wine is the result of a double set of painful sacrifices.
Sacrifices are made by the vine itself and by its grapes. You can have a nice vine growing in your backyard veranda mainly for shade rather than for grapes. If you want shade, you need lots of leaves. Do not sacrifice any of the branches; do not prune your vine. However, if you want abundant grapes you must prune the vine in a drastic, painful way. No sacrifice, no grapes. There is also sacrifice made by the grapes themselves: they have to be crushed, to be squeezed out of shape, to be “lost,” in a sense, in order to turn their juice into fine wine.
Hence, what Jesus is revealing to us is a powerful lesson on living and on loving. Genuine love requires true, factual self-sacrifices; and parents are among the best templates we have. Vague concepts of fuzzy love as it is present in many songs, as found in movies from the entertainment world of Hollywood very seldom envision the element of sacrifice. What you might wind up with could be lots of leaves, empty promises, and flight from commitment.
A wonderful and profitable way of putting into practice what Jesus teaches us about bearing abundant fruit in him would be to go over, in our mind, the thousand ways our parents love, or loved us if they are deceased, by sacrificing themselves for us and for our well-being. There is no way to bear fruits of love without self-sacrifice. I am confident you agree with me on this.
Now, let me give a little, yet factual reassurance to all of you, parents of teenagers. Probably, your teenage sons and daughters give you a hard time and your calls for self-sacrifice seem to multiply during those difficult years; right? Yet, rest assured of this: your teenage sons and daughters know that you truly— love them. Whenever they come to confession, I ask them if they know that their parents genuinely love them, and the answer is shot right back at me in a split second with a resounding YES.
Dear parents, your sacrifices, your ways of loving are not in vain and we thank you for volunteering to become the best template of genuine loving that we have, despite your shortcomings and human limitations. Therefore, to prepare ourselves to make the upcoming Mother’s Day memorable and enriched with a valuable life lesson for all of us, we shall all promise to do two things: to remain in Jesus and to let the Father prune us with His Word.
To remain in Jesus can be construed as awareness of his loving presence in our hearts and all around us. It is something most pleasant, most reassuring, designed to grow on us the way a couple who have been through thick and thin, together for many decades, grows in the awareness of each other’s loving presence mostly without many words being spoken, just basking in their mutual, tested love.
And we also ought to let the Father prune us with His Word. No matter how sincere we might be in our effort to bear much fruit of love and to extoll our parents as templates and role models, we will slack off from time to time. We shall remember that our loving Father is fully aware of our goodwill as well as of our weaknesses. Therefore, He has designed His Word for each weekend to be just right for our present situation and spiritual condition.
It is up to us to build up expectation during the week leading to our weekend worship. We should wonder what the Lord will place before us as a direct challenge to the traces of self-absorption still in us and what words of comfort and encouragement he will say to us so that we may grow in our generous yield of genuine loving.
By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
Once that challenge is known, we should spring into action aided, as always, by the Holy Spirit.