Wednesday , Easter, week 5

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In today’s gospel reading Jesus once again declares that “I am the true vine and my Father is the true vine grower.” In His discussion Jesus again emphasizes the necessity that the vine be pruned to bear an abundance of fruit, and he again mentions that His disciples had been pruned by His word. The first reading of the day includes a discussion on the necessity of new Christian’s requirement to follow Mosaic Law, and the law in question is circumcision. Jewish disciples favor continuing adherence to their laws, while Paul questions the need to be obedient to the laws of the old covenant. There was much discussion amongst the members of the various churches. The laws of circumcision are but one of the laws that will be challenged by these first disciples of Christ.

When Jesus tells his disciples that they had been pruned by his word, his gospel, which does include obedience to Jewish law. Many times the Pharisees had challenged Jesus regarding his obedience to those laws, one example would be His healing on the Sabbath. Jesus in His ministry frequently pruned those laws by being obedient only to those laws that were fruitful in bringing about that kingdom he preached. His challenges to those laws are continued by his disciples, they remain true to his teachings.

This time when reading this discourse on “I am the true Vine” and whole reading about the pruning of the vine, I decided not to take an allegorical approach to these readings. Instead I took a botanical approach to these readings, tried to discern the nature of those vines Jesus spoke about. I then decided to learn how to prune them. Rather than consult the literature of a theologian, I consulted the books of the master gardeners. When Jesus says I am the true vine, I have to believe He is speaking of the grape vine. That vine is one of the culturally significant vines in history.It has particular significance to the Israelites. The grape vine was the symbol of their nation. Jesus could have picked many plants that require pruning. He could have picked the fig trees or those of the olive orchards, or the citrus orchards. Many fruit bearing plants need pruning to increase their harvest. Jesus though picked the vine.

In reading about pruning a grape vine, I learned that the first step is to remove all but one or two branch sprouts. The goal of the first pruning is to establish the vines base, and also to develop a couple of vertical branches or canes. These canes will eventually reach towards the horizontal supports that the part of the vine that holds the fruit will anchor against.

How interesting is the structure the properly pruned grape vine takes, and how interesting is the skill of the vineyard owner? Around the woods in the North East are many grape vines, but they do not resemble the shape of the well trained vine. They do not bear the same abundant fruit either. Pruning a grape vine takes time, these groomed vines are formed or structured. Jesus disciples were formed through Jesus teachings, we are formed in the Church also. That is the purpose of Catechesis. The second part of the pruning process that I noticed was that horizontal fruiting wire, the well-formed vine travels along both a horizontal and vertical path. Within the well-formed vine is the basic form of a cross, a cross that bears much fruit. The strongest cane supports those that reach towards the sky. The fruiting wire supports the horizontal fruit bearing branches. In Christ’s cross the vertical beam commonly describes the relationship between God and man. The horizontal beam describes that relationship between mankind. Interesting that this basic structure is present in the vine.

In an orchard each tree maintains its own unique identity. Though orchard trees require their own skillful pruning, the orchard has a different structure than the vineyard. With the vineyard each of those horizontal branches that travel along the fruiting wire become intertwined. Though each plant might start out individually, they all become one vineyard. They become one vine. Jesus Church takes the form of a vineyard, and not an orchard. When the apostles discuss Mosaic Law and its role in the new Christian Church, they do not discuss that separately in each individual community. They travel amongst all of the churches trying to discern the truth. They do not remain individual churches, each with their own distinct identity, but one Church of Christ. Every church, and every parish, and every diocese of Christ’s true Church is intertwined. They form the one true Church.  Gone is nationalism, and that nationalism is replaced with a journeying towards the kingdom of God. There is a to to be learned from those grapevines, and from the way these plants are cultivated. It seems thee is good reason Jesus used them when He said ” I am the vine.”

year3growingafterpruning

Easter, monday,week five

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In the first readings of today the Apostles continue with their journeys spreading Jesus message of good news and they again are met with the hostility that had become so familiar to them. The reading opens with the threat of their stoning, such was the hatred by their opponents! They did have their victories though first in the healing of a cripple, an important victory though one that likely infuriated the apostles enemies even more, the cripple cured likely had little social standing or influence on that  society. The next victory though could have easily changed the course for the apostles Paul and Barnabas.

“The gods have come down to us in human form.”
They called Barnabas “Zeus” and Paul “Hermes,”
because he was the chief speaker.
And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city,
brought oxen and garlands to the gates,
for he together with the people intended to offer sacrifice.”

That endorsement by those people and the priest of Zeus could have had enormous implications for those disciples had they chose to accept that priests endorsement. Being considered gods by those people could have brought what were humble disciples of modest means the privilege of wealth and authority and power.  Rather  than remaining humble disciples of Jesus, they had  the chance to become His successor. They gad the opportunity to become gods, but they refused. They remained in Christ rather than breaking off into their own empire. They remained on  that  vine Christ spoke of and bore much fruit. Imagine though if they became an offshoot of Christianity, what would they have achieved and what would be different today? Most certainly they would have been yet another sect that dies off, and their disciples would likely searched for yet another false god. By staying on that vine of Christ though they bore much fruit. We still harvest their fruit today.

That has me thinking of the many offshoots of Christianity today. Secular humanism, New Age religions, and even the more mainstream Christian denominations, and those based purely on science fiction. Add to that the new gnostic, the agnostics the intellectual’s, and philosophers, and modern witchery. Where will those  branches be in the next millennia? Will those offshoots bear much fruit or be tossed in the fire?

I am the Vine: Fifth Sunday of Easter

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Writing or posting anything for the past week has been slow, and this weekend leaves me again with little time for writing, or researching the readings as much as I would have liked to. The one topic that struck me throughout the week was how the Apostles challenged so many in proclaiming Christ. There proclaiming Jesus to the Jews was met many times with hostility, many of that culture were unwilling to share their God of the covenant. The Apostles proclaimed the same message to the Gentiles and one has to ponder their bravery for proclaiming their Savior to the Romans as that was boldly going against the Empires Gods, one of whom was Caesar. In today’s reading there is the issue with Paul, the ruthless opponent of Christians who eventually becomes the Apostle of the Gentiles. The conflict of Paul is so indicative of the conflicts and successes those early Apostles of the Church faced as the new Christian Church broke ground in those fields where Jesus preached.

The readings from Acts speak of the growing Church in Judea, Samaria, and in Galilee. AS the Church formed in these lands they were either embraced and grew, or were violently persecuted. Breaking ground is a violent process. Normally when one talks of a church breaking ground, they speak of a building, here the Church breaking ground is that mystical body of Christ that gathered first around the Lord, and now congregate about the Apostles and disciples. It is the fruit of Christ’s teachings, and the labors of those early Christians that aid this Church in emerging from the background cultures. In thinking of the Church breaking ground as a building, it would not be much of an exaggeration to also think of that church as a new birth either. Birth employs many of the same terms. Labor being the most obvious, and there is that way of describing a child’s birth as being brought into the light. A child is also born of two parents, yet an individual with their own identity. The readings from Acts of the Apostles throughout the week have highlighted the labor pains in the birth of that new Church.

In Sunday’s gospel readings Jesus declares I am the vine and you are the branches. In those readings of the Acts of the Apostles, one again can imagine that emerging Church as that vine of Christ emerging from that soil as so many do in the springtime. That I must admit is very much an Easter image. Life emerging from the death of winter. That is vividly evident on this spring day as plants begin to pop from the ground and the leaves of the trees just barely begin to sprout leaves. That vine also can be thought of as the architecture of a Church, with that vine beginning at the altar and the branches the radiating lines of the pews. Christ in Hs preaching must have walked among many of the vineyards of the region, as the grape vine was the earliest symbol of Gods chosen people. He knew of the root of the vine that remained hidden from view, as God was hidden from His people. He declared himself the vine as the one who brings His Father to the light, and He claims his disciples the branches. Jesus was familiar with those branches of a grapevine laden with fruit, but that fruit was only abundant after much violent pruning. Christ reminds his disciples (and that includes us)” You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.” Pruning grape vines is not a minor process, it does involve removing large sections of the plant to bring about an abundant harvest. That pruning is evident throughout the history of Christ’s Church. It is evident as Christ preaches against the resistance of the Pharisees, it is also evident throughout the Acts of the Apostles as that early Church begins to emerge. The pruning continues today as His Church confronts a modern society and its varied issues. It is that pruning that defines the vine, a grape vine is most recognizable by its fruit. A Christian Church is most recognized by the fruit of Christ’s teachings. Jesus Christ reminds us, that Church, that in order to bear fruit we (those branches) must remain on that vine. Something to remember as so many try to redefine what Christ’s Church is.

The final thought is that in these readings Christ declares “ I am the vine, you are the branches” and that vine is one title of Christ and at least to this reader that title hints strongest as reference to His Church, including past through the future. Vines after all are firmly rooted in the earth, interesting considering Jesus declared Peter the rock on which he would build His Church. Interesting to also is that vines nourish grapes which become wine, suggestive of joyous moments. That is the good news of Jesus Christ.

The Orchard

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Jesus said to his disciples:
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing,
but underneath are ravenous wolves.
By their fruits you will know them.
Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?
Just so, every good tree bears good fruit,
and a rotten tree bears bad fruit.
A good tree cannot bear bad fruit,
nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit.
Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down
and thrown into the fire.
So by their fruits you will know them.”

 

Jesus sets up some things that look like simple comparisons on the surface, yet the more you think about this small bit of teaching the more questioning one has to do. The comparison of a wolf in sheep’s clothing is simple enough. People are not always what they seem.  Judge someone not by their appearance, but by what they produce. The story continues with a little about the fruit and its plant:grapes don’t come from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles. True.Grapes grapes come from grapevines and thorn bushes don’t produce fruit. Each fruit is related to its plant.Good trees produce good fruit, bad trees produce bad fruit, some trees produce no fruit.  Fruit is is the work of the plant, to an orchard owner it is what gives value to a tree. The grape vine was a historic  symbol of Israel . Grapevines produce grapes, a good fruit. Wouldn’t oranges or dates, or figs, or olives also be considered good fruits? If grapes could be a symbol of Israel, couldn’t these other fruits be symbols of Israel’s neighbors? Does only one type of tree produce good fruit? Can only one nation be good and prosperous? If a nation is can produce just a little good fruit, could a little cultivation improve its yield.Finally if one should be careful of wolves in sheep’s clothing, how should someone react to a sheep in wolves clothing?

In one way the story can be interpreted is beware of false prophets and be productive lest your unproductivity lead to your destruction. It contains good advice for an individual. Another interpretation can be drawn by reading the story in terms of a complex society. Each society can be valued for what it produces and be careful how you judge a society. How one views another culture can be deceiving, it can be difficult. As Jesus addressed his disciples, each person in the group might have considered themselves the good fruit from the good tree.Yet each person looking at their neighbor might have perceived something differently. A hard working, prosperous, productive, and generous Samaritan might constantly strive to be fruitful; but would a righteous first century Jew recognize this person as “the good fruit”, they were enemies after all! Perhaps the focus of the story was to get Jesus’s disciples to recognize the benefits of who they were. Perhaps Jesus wanted to guide his disciples to value of all parts of society and all societies that were good, that were fruitful. Perhaps Jesus wanted his disciples to see just how abundant Gods Kingdom was.

Vines and Rocks

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It is curious to view the comparison of the stories of the vine and the branches, I am the vine and you are the branches, with the imagery of fire tried gold. In fire tried gold, a piece of earthen ore is heated and gold flows from it. The two are separated and the product is finite,though highly refined, precious and pleasing to behold. In the vine and branches the process is dynamic and expanding. The pruning allows more fruit to be produced, as the non fruit producing branches are removed, the vine becomes stronger so that it might branch out and bear even more fruit. Its interesting how many times Jesus used plants as imagery for his teaching, and how few times he spoke about rocks. It is curiouss too that Gold is rare and good for making Idols, whilst fruit is abundaant &  good for eating......