From a mid-week reflection by Bishop Moyer of the Fellowship of Blessed John Henry Newman:
The Prophets spoke in different ways of Israel as being both vineyard and vine from which God looks for good fruit. The Prophets tell how their disobedience in clinging to false gods had disastrous effects on the vineyard and vine of God’s planting.
Jesus reintroduces and redefines this image of the vineyard and vine, saying that He, as the Incarnate Son of God, has been planted in their midst by a merciful and graciously-providing and restoring God. They are to understand themselves as the branches that need to find themselves connected to God through Jesus the Messiah – the One who comes to lead them into holiness and righteousness before God. They are to be firmly connected with Him as the Vine, so that they bear good fruit. If they remain unconnected, they will not be able to bear the fruit they should, and may even find themselves cut off from the Vine and thrown away as useless.
It is more than interesting to me that in teachings like this, in which Jesus makes very profound statements about He who is, He offers both the promise of blessings and abundant life when people accept Him for who He is; but, at the same time, makes it clear that the consequences of not accepting His teaching and direction are severe, i.e. that the branch can either bear much fruit, or it can be thrown into the fire and burned!
What we are to hear in this Gospel passage is that the Catholic Church is the vineyard, the New Israel, and Jesus the Vine is its head through the Successor of Peter. Jesus prayed, as we do at every Mass, that we “all may be one." We long for that, and we pray that it will (in God’s time) be our corporate reality. The Holy Father gave us his Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, meaning “groups of Anglicans." As we hope, pray, and work for such unity, we are to be connected with Jesus the Vine for His Life to live within us – that, as we pray in the Prayer of Humble Access (referring His Presence in the Blessed Sacrament) “that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.”
The final words of that great Anglican prayer points to what Father Bartunek writes in his book The Better Part about this morning’s Gospel. He writes: “Where does the vine stop and its branches begin? Their union is too complete to tell. The same sap gives life to the vine and its branches. He is Lord from within, renewing our hearts from the inside, as only God can do” (p. 944).
Read the entire reflection at the web site of the Fellowship.