Our Gospel reading today puzzled me somewhat, because it begins with the words:
Jesus said to His disciples: “I am the true vine …”
and then it ends:
By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become My disciples.
I am aware, of course, that one might interpret those last words in the sense of: ‘bear much fruit and thus become My disciples’ or ‘show yourselves to be’ My ‘true’ disciples, but that is not what John actually says. What then is he saying?
Part of the second reading from St. John’s first letter, gives us a clue, for there we read:
Those who keep His commandments remain in Him, and He in them; and the way we know that He remains in us is from the Spirit He gave us.
Now, according to John, Jesus only spoke about asking the Father to send His disciples another Advocate -- the Holy Spirit -- in the course of this present discourse; and then He only spoke of the Spirit being sent in the future (14:15-17; 14:26; 15:26):
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, Whom the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows Him. But you know Him, because He remains with you (all, as a body now), and will be in you (individually).
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you everything.
When the Advocate comes Whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth Who proceeds from the Father, He will testify to Me.
So, for St. John’s presentation of Jesus, there is an essential difference between His faithful followers during His Palestine days, and those same followers later endowed with the Risen Lord’s Gift of the Holy Spirit sent from the Father: the first are called ‘disciples’ by John who writes, ‘Jesus said to His disciples’; whereas the others are designated as such in accordance with Jesus’ own most positive and emphatic words, ‘bear much fruit and become My disciples’.
John’s letter quoted in our second reading backs up these thoughts, as can be seen, perhaps more clearly, in another translation:
All who obey His commandments abide in Him and He abides in them. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit that He has given us. (NRSV)
We ‘become His disciples’ – that is, those who know the abiding-in-them-Jesus, those who know Him thus by the personal communion they have with Him -- by the Gift of the Spirit sent in the name of Jesus by the Father. For it is the Spirit Who establishes a personal relationship of loving solicitude and devout obedience between Jesus and His follower, whereby all who obey His commandments abide in Him and He abides in them; and, by virtue of that relationship, they also come to know that He abides in them, by the Spirit (He) Jesus has given them.
And so, dear People of God, Jesus demands obedience from all His disciples, but above all He desires such commitment to be imbued with the intimate beauty of personal communion, whereby the ‘do-er’ of His will, delights in the awareness that it is His will.
St. Luke presents the same teaching prominently in our first reading:
The Church was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord; and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit it grew in numbers.
There we have the difference between those who love Jesus and think that Christians have all they need for their understanding and imitation of Jesus in the Bible, perhaps more simply in the New Testament, or even, indeed, in the Gospels alone, and those – like ourselves – who, in the God-given Church, seek not simply to know the words Jesus uttered and imitate the things He did, but aspire to be formed by the very Spirit of Jesus in the likeness of Jesus. We pray for and invite the Holy Spirit to guide us, who are already members of Christ through faith and obedience, way beyond and immeasurably far above the awareness of our own thoughts and the strictness of our personal discipline… no matter how developed and specialised we (in our pride and folly) may think them to be … into a Spiritual conformity with Jesus. For God desires that the full majesty and beauty of the Son-made-flesh be manifested in the most sensitive detail and to the closest conformity by a multitude of complementary family likenesses formed by the Holy Spirit for the glory of the Father of all goodness and truth.
People of God, God is holy, we are not; God is good, we are needy; let us not, therefore, try to prescribe ourselves a ‘Jesus’ for our imitation, based on our own thoughts, no matter how studious or learned they may be; on our own aspirations or imaginations, no matter how pious they may be. Rather let us try to just love the Lord proclaimed by Mother Church with all our heart, understand Him in her Scriptures to the utmost of our mind, embrace Him in her Eucharist with heart-felt warmth and sincerity, and then both humbly and prayerfully entrust ourselves to the Holy Spirit, beseeching Him to form us into a likeness of Jesus in Mother Church, as He most wonderfully formed Jesus Himself in the womb of Mary.
For we are all, throughout our lives, meant to be formed as other, mutually complementary, Christs in the womb of Mother Church, by the Spirit. And after such a life-time gestation, our ultimate birth into heavenly life should be characterized first and foremost by a sublimely childlike cry of ‘THANK YOU my Father, my God, and my All’, a cry most befitting those worshippers in Spirit and in Truth who, as Jesus Himself revealed and John alone reports, the Father desires above all:
The hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and Truth. (4:23s.)
Thus with the Holy Spirit of love having formed us in Mother Church, the Body of the Christ Who is the Truth, we will find ourselves most lovingly adopted, and ‘fully at home’, members of the family of God the Father.