Cutting Back – John Foley, SJ

John 15:1-8, Fifth Sunday of Easter


The Gospel for this coming Sunday of Easter has a familiar story. Jesus, the vine, is rooted and stable and will always bring us all the nourishment we need. We are the dependent branches.

Maybe you would like to stop there and contemplate such a rich image. Do so if you would like.

Why? Because just beyond it there is the small matter of being pruned. To prune a plant is to cut parts of it off. Jesus mentions it twice in our Gospel reading: Speaking as the vine, he says that the Father

takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit,
and every one that does he prunes,
so that it bears more fruit. (Gospel)

Ouch. If we bring forth no fruit, we “will be thrown out like a branch and wither.” If we bear some, we have to be pruned. We lose either way!

And it is all our fault:

If only I were a better person, if only I had done the right thing, if only the world were different, if only I had been dealt a better hand in the game of life, or, or, or. If I weren’t so full of guilt I wouldn’t have to be pruned. It is all my fault!

But guilt is a major feature of human life. “Everything goes wrong,” it says. To tell the truth, many people take the crucifixion as a direct result of their own sins. “I caused this. My sins killed Jesus.” This is not completely false, but it is out of control. How could your small sins take down the Lord of the universe?

So could there be a better way to deal with guilt? Yes.

First, decide whether you are bearing no fruit at all. None. If that is really and actually true, then get help from someone, because spiritually you are dying. Most of us do bear good fruit—it is just that we don’t recognize that we do.

Second, with that settled, look at what pruning is. It is a way to make things better, make a better plant, a better tree, a better orchard. If you cut tired old branches from your Philodendron, for instance, it will begin to thrive again, not wither. Pruning encourages new growth and the overall health of the plant or tree.

Third, seen in that way, you and I do need to be trimmed regularly, don’t we? Here is an example. Maybe unconsciously we have been thinking that we ourselves are the vine, independent of Christ, not just a branch. The reason pruning would help is not that we should be punished, but that pruning promotes health of the whole person, the whole garden, the whole orchard—the mystical body of Christ.

Can you trust the steadiness of Jesus’ gardener hand. Trust even while suffering? Drink in your overflowing share of trust at Sunday’s table of the Lord. Let the Word instruct you, let the body and blood of Christ, which was pruned to almost nothing, fill you and shape you.

Then you can say to the Lord with the rest of us, go ahead, trim whatever gets in the way! I am not the vine, I am a branch.

My job is not to be perfect, it is to remain in you, Christ, and to let you do good within me and through me and us.

*from the St Louis Sunday website

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