Our True Vine – Arnel Aquino, SJ

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John 15:1-8; 5th Sunday of Easter

Sisters & brothers, how do we know if we, the branches, are still connected to Jesus, the true vine? Can we tell by some sign that we remain in him and he in us? John’s Gospel is bursting with metaphors of Jesus. Jesus has seven “I am” sayings in John: I am…bread of life, light of the world, the door, good shepherd, the Resurrection and the life, the way, the truth, and the life, & finally, I am the vine. We’re not a grape-growing country, but thankfully, we have a Pinoy version to today’s Gospel. Kung anong puno, siyang bunga. So, how do we know if we’re still connected to the True Vine? Kung anong puno, siyang bunga; if what we do—and its effects—look like, feel like, act like the True Vine. Sisters and brothers, the most concrete example I can think of right now is the community pantry. Community pantries are shared acts of kindness from the grassroots, plainly reminiscent of the person and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. He fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, helped the poor, healed the ill, and all for free; giving without counting the cost, laboring without asking for reward. We also have a Tagalog equivalent for that: “Sino pa bang magdadamayane ‘di tayo ring magkakababayan, kapamilya, kapuso, kapit-bahayan?

I read an article the other day. It said, and I paraphrase: “These pantries are our modern bayanihan. People provide for each other the security that the state has not provided.” Then, it said: “But community pantries cannot save us from the pandemic. They’re aimed at one purpose, to feed the hungry. But that can’t solve the pandemic. It doesn’t eradicate the virus.” I’m not sure if anyone ever intended to end a pandemic through a community pantry. I’m pretty sure, though, that these humble tables of plenty, they are saving hundreds from gutom. Community pantries don’t end a pandemic, no. But they’re certainly life-giving for many, and not one moment too soon where there’s been a lot of fruitlessness and death. I dare say that community pantries re-incarnate Pinoy values of pakikiramay, pagkakawanggawa, habag sa dukha. And see how they’ve borne abundant fruit: kindness budding more kindness; generosity branching into more generosity; goodness growing more goodness. Kahit nga ‘yung halos walang-wala na sa buhay, nag-aambag! Nabasa ko kahapon, mag-ina, naglibot ng lugaw. ‘Yun lang daw ang kanilang nakayanan. Parang gusto ko tuloy sabihin kay Nanay, “Naku, ‘Nay. Hindi po natin lalang-langin ang lugaw because lugaw is essential.”

Pero may mga Pinoy ba na nananamantala, ‘yun bang may supply naman sa bahay, pero pumipila pa rin? Meron. May kumukuha ba sa pantry tapos binibenta sa sari-sari store nila? Meron. Meron bang kuha lang nang kuha, pero wala namang inaambag? Marami. But see, that’s one verisimilitude between the good branch and the True Vine: the persistence to still do the good as much as there’s still good to do. I’m not worried about well-meaning Filipinos of humble means still giving away free of charge despite self-seeking kababayans. Forget that. What worries me and infuriates me more, are people with means and power who are selling us out for free. I mean, the hypocrisy of scrutinizing community pantries for covert communist infiltration, but doing squat about the real communists out in the West Philippine Sea, in full light of day.

Sisters and brothers, do you know what a grape plant looks like after aggressive pruning in the winter? They prune in winter because the sap is dormant, so the plant doesn’t bleed to death. A well-pruned grape plant is a thick vertical trunk with two main branches out sideways. It’s really like a human torso with sideward arms tied to a balag. Imagine an eerie field of those, a field of wooden, sinewy tree figures, like a mass crucifixion. But not to worry. By mid-spring, along those cruciform arms burgeon vertical branches called canes. Soon, the canes bud and leaf out and fructify. All that cutting and slashing and pruning and crucifying in winter’s cold finally yield a harvest of grapes, bunches of them, heavy, shiny, and plump!

Our True Vine was also suspected and spied on and finally crucified. Why? He made the authorities look bad, fruitless, & spineless against foreign power, Rome. They thought they had ended him by pruning him & bleeding him to death. But, oh, those arms grew canes and leaves, fructifying into Christianity; 2.4 billion strong today.

Whenever I contemplate the Lord contemplating Pinoys, today, I hope he sees in us a good harvest, despite these terrible times. I hope our one True Vine regards us as the slender canes growing and leafing out of his outstretched arms, and bearing fruit, kahit papaano, just like our community pantries have shown, sa kabila ng kahirapan ng mga tao, sa kabila ng kamangmangan ng mga may-kapangyarihan, sa kabila ng pagto-troll ng mga walang naiaambag kundi panis na laway.

We will know if we’re still connected to the True Vine if the fruits that we bear look like, feel like, & act like the True vine; yes, both in triumph & in persecution. “And God’s commandment is this: that we should believe in his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ and love one another just as he commanded us. Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them.”

Here’s a shout out to all of the well-meaning Pinoys who have laid out community pantries for the poor. A bunch of thanks to all of you, and an even bigger bunch of blessings from God; ten, twenty, a hundredfold!

*image from the Internet

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