These are the words from today’s responsorial psalm. It was common in Old Testament times to describe Israel as a vine and a vineyard. “You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land.” (Ps.80:8-9). These words illustrate how God led the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt into the promised land. This was also a favorite parable of the Hebrew prophets. Isaiah 5: 1-7 is a song about the beautiful vineyard Israel. This vine, specially cared for by God, bore fruit at first, but over time it did not. Hosea 10: 1 says, “Israel is a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit. The more his fruit increased the more altars he built; as his country improved, he improved his pillars.” The prophet tells us how Israel turned away from God and turned to idolatry. That is why the Lord asks through the prophet Jeremiah, “I planted you as a choice vine, from the purest stock. How then did you turn degenerate and become a wild vine?” The book of Ezekiel 15: 1-8 describes the condition of the branch that was separated from the vine. “Is wood taken from it to make anything? Does one take a peg from it on which to hang any object? It is put in the fire for fuel” (Ez. 15:3-4).
It is in this Old Testament context that Jesus says I am the true vine and you are its branches (John 15). Israel, the old vine, failed in its mission to bear fruit. But Christ, the new vine, came to fulfill the Old Testament. By saying that we are the branches of this vine, Jesus is reminding us of our great responsibility. Our duty is to cling to Christ. Only then will his life be reflected in our actions. So when we begin to bear fruit, God, the farmer, will start to prune the branches. This trimming is meant to encourage growth of the vine and to bear abundant fruit. There is something that the farmers of Palestine have been doing. For the first two years they will see to it that the vine does not bear fruit. As soon it flowers, they pluck away the flowers. By doing so, the vine will bear abundant fruit in the third and subsequent years.
When we think from this background, we realize that all the pain and suffering in our lives is not a sign that God has forsaken us, but a sign that God is showing us more care and love. This pruning is definitely painful. But if we cling to Christ, the true vine, our lives will bear more fruit.