Pruning and Other Cutting Metaphors

He is the vine. We are the branches. Without Him we can do nothing.

Humbling. And there’s more. He prunes the branches that bear fruit, so that they will bear more fruit.

pruning shearsNow, pruning involves some painful cutting, to be sure. But there’s painful cutting, and there’s painful cutting. The first generation of Christians had to settle the question of whether adult male Gentile converts must submit to circumcision. The Holy Spirit led the Apostles down the less-painful path in that case…

Nonetheless, isn’t it maddening, in this day and age of streaming Netflix, to have to contend with all the agricultural metaphors the Lord Jesus used? And for that matter, it can be even more frustrating to have to consider one of the crucial underlying meanings of all these farm images: namely, that the disciple of Christ cannot expect immediate satisfaction. The humble disciple must wait patiently on the Lord.

Christ gave us a number of parables that counsel this patience. Seeds take a long time to grow; farmers have to wait patiently for the rains and the harvest season. A mustard seed takes forever to grow into a tree. Fig trees that bear no fruit need to be cultivated again and given another year. Etc.

circumcison knifeBut, among all these patience-counseling parables, it would seem that the image of a vine being pruned is the most galling of all, to the get-it-done-now, e-mail-addled mind. Because the pruning of a vine can look to the untrained eye like a step backwards. It looks like crazy destructiveness. Wait a minute! That branch had some perfectly good-looking buds on it! Look at it—it’s all leafy! And you’re cutting it back?! You’re cutting a fruit-bearing branch! Stop this madness!!

But the wise vine-dresser possesses both more patience and more expertise. He knows that it is precisely the branches with buds that need to be cut the most carefully—in order for the entire organism truly to thrive as it is meant to thrive—and bear fruit that is ripe and easy for plucking.

When you get right down to it, being on the receiving end of a spiritual pruning might actually be more painful than adult circumcision. But it is this great act of pruning, which galls our impatience to the core and schools us in the most profound humility; it is by pruning us, His vines, so wisely, that the Lord turns us into branches that can bear choice grapes for fine wine.

Unity, Sap, Fruit

What unites the cosmos?

In all times and circumstances, in all cultures and nations, man seeks a principle of unity for the great, variegated world. The Tao. The World Soul. Jihad for Allah. Liberté, égalité, fraternité. Enlightened self-interest or survival of the fittest. The Force. Facebook. Etc.

But we read in John 15:

Christ cultivates a vine. He works everywhere for the production of fruit.

We believe in the sap of this vine; we do not see it. The sap flows from the wounded side of Christ, from His Heart. His love made the world in the first place, and His love re-makes it. He makes it capable of fruition.

Divine love flows out, to sustain every branch. It runs like an invisible river from heaven to earth. It flows through Christ’s sacraments, and through every means He has given us to receive what He has to give. The Lord works for the growth of fruit. He knows how to do it. The sap of His love flows to fill every branch.

So the sap is the love of Almighty God. But this is not the whole picture. The fruit is also the love of Almighty God.

Love flows as invisible sap through the difficulty and distress of this mortal age of our life. For now, truth, for the most part, lies hidden. Love works quietly and unobtrusively.

But in the life to come, this same love will bud forth as beautiful fruit. What lies hidden now will shine out clearly. Everything we believe in now, we will see.

It’s the same unchanging, omnipotent divine love—the true unifying force. If we say we can see it, or claim to understand it now, then what we see or think we understand—that really isn’t it. The sap is something we believe in. It’s God Himself, making us love like He loves.

In the end, this invisible majestic force will bear fruit. Fruit more beautiful and sweeter than anything we can imagine.

E Pluribus Unum (Easter Exegesis III)

pluribusIn Psalm 22, we sing: “I will praise you, Lord, in the assembly of your people.” “I will praise you, Lord, in the assembly of your people.”

This is our hymn. We sing it together. God made us to be together—to praise Him together, and to work together for His Kingdom.

The Lord Jesus told us: “I am the vine. You are the branches. You cannot bear fruit unless you remain on the vine.” (John 15:5) A vine has many branches, and the branches live and bear fruit together. Left alone, a branch detached from the vine withers and dies.

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