Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”
Does society exist for the benefit of its members, as Herbert Spencer believed, or the members for the benefit of society? If you say the first, you seem to be setting the stage for complete individualism; but if you say the second are you not sponsoring fascism? So which is it going to be?
We spontaneously assume that questions are perfectly clear and correctly put, and that only answers can be true or false. (This assumption may have something to do with our early schooling.) But there can be false questions, and the question above is surely false. It is like asking whether your head is for the benefit of your body, or your body for the benefit of your head. In a living organism everything is for the benefit of everything else. The question assumes a false opposition.
St Paul said Jesus is the head of his body, the Church; he is the head, we the bodily members (see Colossians 1:18). We cannot be divided from the head and retain any life at all. Nor can a member separated from the body remain alive. A living body is an organism, not a collection of parts. We have to be careful about the images we use to describe the Church. False separations creep in subtly. The image in today’s reading is even more striking than Paul’s: a vine and its branches. Unlike a tree, where you can distinguish clearly between trunk and branches, the vine is just all branches! “I am the vine and you are the branches”: the vine is the branches!
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