Father Zifac: The Secret of Fruitfulness
Cross-posted from the Benedict XVI Institute for Africa
To make plants, God spoke to the earth: “Let the earth produce all kinds of plants” (Gen. 1:11). To make the fish, He spoke to the water: “Let the waters swarm and abundantly produce living creatures…” (Gen. 1:20). To make man, God spoke to Himself. And the Lord said, “Let us make man in our own image…” (Gen. 1:26). Because God spoke to the earth in making the plants, no plant thrives without a moral union with the earth/soil. Because God spoke to the water, no fish, no sea creature thrives out of water. Because God spoke to Himself in the case of man, no one has life apart from God. This misery of man without God is declared in today’s Gospel text in the words, “Apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5)
In the beginning when God had created them male and female (Gen. 1:27) we are told He blessed them and His first command to them was, “…Be fruitful” (v. 28). But darkness came over Eden and “When the Lord saw how wicked everyone on earth was (Gen. 6:5), He wiped out the people He created, except Noah and a few with him. Here is Noah standing at the dawn of yet another beginning, and God tells him, “Be fruitful” (Gen 9:1). Adam heard the command in the beginning; Noah heard the command in another beginning; the 11 disciples heard these words in yet another beginning and we have heard the same words even today and especially today. How so? How is it another beginning in John chapter 15?
8 times in chapter 15 of John’s Gospel the word “fruit” is used by Our Blessed Lord. In Scripture “8’’ is the resurrection-number. A. Pink tells us that 8 is associated with a new beginning. It is the number of the new creation (Cf. A. Pink, Exposition of John’s Gospel, Vol 2, page 393). At yet another beginning, therefore, Our Blessed Lord, the “True Vine” in his paschal discourse tells the 11 disciples: “My Father’s glory is shown by your bearing much fruit” (15:8). He had already spoken of the unity of the apostles with Himself through the Eucharist in chapter 13. He now takes up the same theme in chapter 15 under the figure of the vine and the branches. We remember of course that Israel was referred to in the OT as the vine (as in Ps. 92):
As in contrast to the manna given by Moses He called Himself the “True Bread,”
As in contrast to the brilliant lights of the Feast of the Tabernacles He called Himself the “True Light,”
As in contrast to the temple built by human hands He called Himself the “Temple of God,”
So now in contrast to the vine of Israel He said, “I am the Real/True vine…” (15:1) And you are the branches (v. 6).
Inasmuch as the secret of a fish’s survival and generation is being in water,
Inasmuch as the secret of a plant’s survival and generation is a healthy moral union with the soil/earth, Jesus tells the 11 disciples/us that the secret of bearing fruit as a branch in the garden of God is abiding with Him and in Him. To “abide” means to “dwell”, to “continue”, to “remain”, and in Christ it means to maintain fellowship with God in Christ. [A happy Christian met an Irish peddler one day and said to him, “It is a grand thing to be saved.” “Aye”, said the peddler, “It is. But I think something equally as good as that.” “What can you possibly think is equal to salvation?” “The companionship of the man who has saved me,” was the reply (Cf. Ruth Peters, Bible Illustrations, Book One, page 81)].
Knowing that the hour had drawn near for Him to save Adam’s race that had so far failed to be fruitful, Our Blessed Lord asked for our companionship, for an eternal fellowship with Him marked by a total dependency on Him, a dependency in the manner of the branches of a grapevine. What are the branches of a vine but helpless, creeping, clinging things? They cannot stand alone; they need to be supported to stand.
But grapevines do not have many uses. Vines do not yield timber from which people can make other things. Their total value is that they can produce fruit, specifically grapes. Similarly, the only reason believers exist on earth is to bear spiritual fruit, fruits of righteousness, the fruits of the Holy Spirit. The only reason why priests are ordained is to bear fruit for Christ, the True Vine. An unfruitful branch (Christian, seminarian, priest) is a dishonour to God. Let the True Bread we shall soon receive help us to lovingly abide to the True Vine Jesus, Our Lord. With the help of this True Bread, let us get rid of the diseases, the insects, the parasites that hinder us from producing much fruit, those fruits of love suggested by our second passage (the Second Reading) which tells us that we must not love only in words (Cf. 1 Jn 3:18). When He spoke to Joseph, he/Joseph listened and did not put away his wife Mary (Mt 1:18-20); Joseph listened and fled into Egypt with the Holy Child. In this way God used St Joseph and proved himself as a vinedresser, and the Holy Child is this vine because. God still looks for a Joseph in our day to use, so that fruits may be borne for His glory. He willed that Adam/Noah/the 11 disciples should be fruitful. He wills that you and I should be fruitful, a fruitfulness achieved through Him, with Him and in Him. May He through the intercession of St Joseph support us in our life and ministry to abide in Jesus and bear abundant fruit by:
Doing all the good we can,
By all the means we can,
In all the ways we can,
In all the places we can,
To all the people we can,
As long as we ever can. Amen.