“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.
He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit,
and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.
You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.
Remain in me, as I remain in you.
Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own
unless it remains on the vine,
so neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine, you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit,
because without me you can do nothing.”
So, it seems that a fruitless branch will be removed by the vine grower. Likewise, a branch that does not remain on the vine cannot bear fruit. Connection to Jesus Christ and fruitfulness are interdependent. What came first, the chicken or the egg? The evolutionary answer is the egg, but it wasn’t laid by a chicken. The theological answer here is both/and: to stay on the vine, we must bear fruit and to bear fruit, we must stay on the vine. “Remain in me, as I remain in you,” Jesus says.
I am troubled by a little phrase, however, that may be easy to pass over. Here it is: “...every one that does (bear fruit) he prunes so that it bears more fruit.” So, let me get this straight. If I remain in Jesus and Jesus remains in me so that I bear much fruit, the vine grower is still going to prune me so that I’ll bear even more fruit? Is that how God works? I don’t want to be pruned. I want to bask in the warm love of the Son. I want to remain in Jesus. Pruning sounds painful. They say that the truth hurts.
As part of a Lilly Foundation grant to the Archdiocese of Louisville, I participated last spring in a 360 review of my leadership. Various groups, staff, and parishioners were invited to provide structured feedback on my leadership performance. While supportive and edifying, the review also identified areas that I could improve upon. It wasn’t easy to hear, but it was also a relief to know that the people I serve recognize that I’m not perfect (I know!). I don’t have to pretend to be so and I can get to work on making improvements. I did begin by creating structures for greater shared leadership and set some additional goals. Although I got sidelined by my back surgery, I have recently moved forward again by engaging an executive coach to help me improve. I am hopeful that this vine grower will prune my leadership to make it more fruitful.
Wait. Wait. Wait. I get it. God wants me to be the best version of myself, the person he has made me to be. I find it easier to accept for leadership skills, but it is true in the spiritual life, as well. In the area of faith, hope, and love, of communion, virtue, and holiness, God is my executive coach, my vine grower. Because he loves us, God wants us to be the best version of ourselves. God has made us for fruitfulness and wants us to reach our potential in love. Pruning may involve truth, pain, challenge, expectations, goals, effort, struggle, and change, but it is the way to grow. He will coach us and prune us by his word. He will cut out sin and selfishness so that we can freely love. We must trust him and remain in him, because without him, we can do nothing.