1 John 3:18-24
In last Sunday’s gospel reading, Jesus described himself as the good Shepherd. This morning, Jesus says, "I am the true vine." The apostle John has several other "I am" sayings (bread of life, gate for the sheep, light of the world, resurrection and life, and the way/truth/life) which help us understand Jesus and our relationship to Jesus.
We hear about the vine, the vine grower and the branches. What about the vineyard itself? Although grapevines can be grown in a wide variety of soil types, the most important characteristics are good internal drainage and, at the same time, a water-holding capacity, adequate depth, the right combination of pH levels, iron, magnesium, nitrogen, etc. You can’t just dig a hole, put in a vine and hope for first-class grapes to produce exceptional wine. There are regions throughout the world that produce first class wines. It’s not because of luck. Winemakers for centuries have charted specific sites that have unique geological compositions that produce the finest grapes in the world for wine.
Our God, the one who plants the vine, is not limited by geological compositions. The Christ vine was planted in a young girl who was not married, in a country that was rigorously controlled by Roman supremacy, in a population that was poorly educated, at a time when communication resources were sorely inadequate and transportation for ordinary people was restricted to walking, Definitely not very good soil in which to plant the Christ vine and to announce the Good News. All the toxic components in the soil could devastate the plant before it even had a chance to produce.
What about my vineyard? Do I feel that I have not been planted in the finest soil? The nutrients of love, community and understanding are not adequate for my development. The minerals of disappointment, fear, unbelief, discontentment and greed surround me. If only I could be planted in soil that supports my faith (the grass is greener on the other side of the hill). Adverse life-situations need not prevent me from having a fruitful life. We can believe that when life is difficult, the best thing to do is to run and look for better circumstances. It may in fact be wise to run from certain situations (physical abuse), but by and large we need to stay where we are planted. The consequence of too much running is that we miss what God wants to teach us. God will be with us, wherever we are to provide every grace we need for a full and abundant life. That’s the promise. All God asks of us, as we are reminded in today’s Gospel, is that we abide in Christ. "Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit…" It is not about the soil, it’s about our willingness to trust. We know that God is not out to harm us; yet we know that God does not give us immunity. We believe that God will use both the delights and troubles of life to strengthen us, to draw us closer to Jesus and to give us a fruitful life.
Richard Halverson, a Presbyterian minister who served as chaplain in the United States Senate, offered this prayer:
You go nowhere by accident.
Wherever you go, God is sending you.
Wherever you are, God has put you there.
He has a purpose in your being there.
Christ, who dwells in you,
Has something he wants to do through you where you are.
Believe this and go in his grace and love and power."
My vineyard might not be highly valued like Tuscany, Italy or Bordeaux, France or the Napa Valley, but it is good enough for God. Growing where I am planted means giving my best in the here and now.
Fr. Don Webber, C.P., is Provincial Superior of Holy Cross Province and resides in Chicago.