The Gospel reading from John, speaks of the fruitful growth of the branches as long as they are connected to the centre vine. But the Gospel says that we will bear fruit only if we are attached to the vine, only if we make it a point to be open to and accept the presence of Christ.
We are attached to the vine John says in the second reading. We are attuned to the presence of Christ through our belief in him and through our love for one another. Both are necessary, neither alone will bear fruit. Love gives substance, flesh and blood, to belief, and belief gives purpose and direction to love.
Belief and love. In our Christian tradition, the two are bound together in one word, Faith. For a Christian, faith, being attached to the vine, is not a virtue that determines only a relationship to God and a way of acting toward God. Beyond that, faith is a virtue that determines relationship with and behaviour toward other people and toward oneself as well.
Certainly, our reaction to God is an expression of our faith. The way that we react toward God is a reflection of what we believe to be true about God. If we believe God to be a stern and vengeful lawgiver, our attitude toward God will be largely one of fear. If we believe God to be some sort of vast impersonal cosmic force, out there amongst the stars, our attitude, in the midst of daily living, will probably be something like “So what?” But if our faith is formed rather by what God has revealed about himself, in the story of the prodigal son, for example, then our attitude will be one of humble, grateful acceptance of all the unearned goodness we have received.
Faith gives us a new insight, a new understanding of the people around us as well. In faith, we see that every human being ever created was created in God’s image, and that every person ever created is deserving of our acceptance, our love, our service.
Our faith determines too our attitude toward ourselves. If we are truly aware of our connection to the vine, then self-respect, a healthy self-love, is a natural and easy thing.
If we can honestly see and accept ourselves as instruments of Christ’s life in the world, then somehow the personal standards of society seem pretty vain and empty, and truly living out the personal standards of Christ becomes something we owe ourselves.
Truly there is cause for optimism. The vine is growing, and the branches will bear fruit.