The Word of God is so pure: His truth is so clear. No one can add to it, no one take away from it. He tells us astonishing things. He tells us what is almost too strong for us to hear. We're satisfied to hear Him speak of Himself as the vine, and when He calls His Father the vinedresser we're not surprised. We love to hear Him talk about Himself and His Father. They're both divine somehow, both one, and we're pleased that the Father sent His Word to us as His Son, and that He loves us. We know and believe. We want this to be enough for us.
But the Word doesn't stop there, doesn't keep the topic on heaven, but begins to draw the circle wider, including more and more, getting closer to us. What are these branches that are in Him? What is the fruit He's talking about? What happens to the unfruitful branches after the Father takes them off the vine? Why do the fruitful vines have to be pruned, why must they be injured to bear more fruit?
It just doesn't make sense. A fruitful vine should be encouraged, treated well, so it can bear more fruit, not punished by being cut back. That's how we think.
So far, so good. We think maybe this is all just some kind of metaphor or parable for divine things, having nothing to do with us. After all, Christ is the vine, and He has branches, some of which are fruitful and some not. This must be an allegory. But wait! What is He saying? He's changed the subject. Now He's telling us that we're clean, that we're clean because of the word He has spoken to us. What word is that? What does He mean, 'Abide in me, and I in you'? This saying is starting to make us sweat. Does He really mean to get us that close? He's roping us in.
He can't be serious! The divine Being who humbled Himself to become one of us, a man, wasn't that daring enough? Does He really mean to make us one with Himself somehow? We know we can't bear fruit by ourselves. We never intended to. We were quite happy to let Him bear all the fruit and sprout branches. Isn't that what angels are for? Isn't it them that the Word is talking about when He addresses somebody as 'sons of God'? He can't possibly mean us. We're only humans!
We're in for it now! We're in over our heads! His words are like hooks that have pierced our ears and dragged us like fish into His net. Or is it pruning hooks? It sounds as if we are the branches after all, and we haven't a choice in the matter. Well, no choice except to not bear fruit, and in that case, to be cut off. He was very clear about that, wasn't He? And if we do bear fruit, we're going to be pruned. It looks like we're damned if we do, and damned if we don't. Well, maybe not really damned if we do, but for sure, we're in for it. It's no holiday to be pruned!
But what's the alternative? To not bear fruit? We can look like we're attached to the vine, but if we really aren't, there just won't be any fruit. The choice, it seems, goes a bit further back. It's not whether or not to bear fruit. It's whether or not to be attached, really attached, to the vine. It doesn't look like we'll be able to pretend on this one. Either we are, or we aren't.
So what does He mean by bearing much fruit, anyway? Shouldn't we find out what kind of fruit He wants us to bear, and then try our hardest to bear it? Maybe that will make Him happy, and perhaps He won't prune us after all. But He's not telling us what kind of fruit, only serving the ball back into our court, telling us to ask for whatever we wish, and it will be done for us. Is that what He means by bearing fruit? It sounds too easy. It sounds like nothing depends on us at all. So He wants us to bear fruit, but then not to exert any effort, just ask and let it be done for us?
The life of grace is truly a mystery. 'How shall I say where I end, and where you begin. How shall I say, what shall I play, shall it be you or the wild wind? As Pan with the unsane eyes, or with the wild horns, or when I am crowned with a paper crown, or with the crown of thorns.' The Divine Nature, shared among the Persons of the Holy Triad, beginningless, endless, unborn in eternity, unbegotten on earth, One without a partner, yet Bridegroom of every soul as of a single Bride! He speaks, He summons the earth…
By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
Yes, it's really true. He prunes His branches.