5th Sunday of Easter 2012
You are pruned already
Jesus said to his disciples: "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that bears no fruit he cuts away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes to make it bear even more. You are pruned already, by means of the word that I have spoken to you. Make your home in me, as I make mine in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, but must remain part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is like a branch that has been thrown away - he withers; these branches are collected and thrown on the fire, and they are burnt. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask what you will and you shall get it. It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit, and then you will be my disciples."
'You are pruned already.’ Is this true of you? Have you been pruned? If you know about gardening, you know about pruning. At a certain time of the year trees, shrubs and plants are trimmed down; unnecessary parts are cut away. Pruning can be drastic. When vines are pruned, I understand that up to ninety per-cent of what is there from the previous year is cut away. If you are pruned already, it means you have been through something like this. It is likely that it shook you up, took a lot out of you and deprived you of things you were reluctant to part with.
I was with a group of people who were meditating on these words; I asked them, ‘What is it that prunes us?’ One lady answered immediately: ‘Life.’ How true that is: the things that happen to us in life prune us: sickness, for example, or problems in the family or the loss of someone close. The discipline of school prunes us in our early years, the discipline of work or the frustration of unemployment may prune us throughout our lives; failing strength and dependence on others may prune us in our later years.
The word that prunes
Jesus mentioned something else that prunes us. He told the apostles that they were pruned already by means of ‘the word I have spoken to you.’ We know from our own experience that words prune us: words that challenge us, warn us, correct us. You may remember words of Jesus that have done that for you. Somebody wrongs you and hurts you; you are deeply upset for a long time; you feel justly angry and then one day you remember the words of the Our Father, ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ An overgrowth of bitter thoughts and hard feelings may then have to be pruned. Or you are criticising a relation who gets on your nerves, and you remember the words of Jesus to the Pharisees, ‘Let him who is without sin, throw the first stone.’ You are pruned again.
We must not remain silent
Jesus’ pruning word may come in the words of other people. In his Lenten message this year Pope Benedict drew attention to an aspect of Christian life which he believes is being completely forgotten in our times: fraternal correction. He reminded us of Jesus’ command to correct a brother or sister who does something wrong. This, he said, is a dimension of Christian charity which we must recover. He went on, ‘We must not remain silent before evil. I am thinking of all those Christians who, out of human regard or purely personal convenience, adapt to the prevailing mentality, rather than warning their brothers and sisters against ways of thinking and acting that are contrary to the truth and that do not follow the path of goodness.’ These are pruning words for all of us.
God does the pruning
Jesus asks us to see the pruning within the bigger picture of our lives. It is God who does the pruning. God knows what he is doing; his pruning may be painful but is never destructive. Nothing of value is lost; in the long run the pruning makes our lives more fruitful. You may notice signs of that fruitfulness: It may have made you humbler or gentler, more patient and tolerant, more aware of your need of other people and of God.
God is pruning our Church too: cutting out the horrendous abuse of the innocent, and the scandalous cover-up of crimes. Perhaps God is pruning our country and our western world through the economic downturn: lopping off the decaying branches of greed, reckless spending and the worship of prosperity and material comfort. If God is doing the pruning we do not have to be afraid of the painful process. We can trust that what he is doing will bear fruit in his good time.
Prayer: From Psalm 50
Have mercy on me, God in your kindness.
In your compassion blot out my offense.
O wash me more and more from my guilt
and cleanse me from my sin.
Indeed you love truth in the heart;
then in the secret of my heart teach me wisdom.
O purify me, then I shall be clean;
O wash me, I shall be whiter than snow.