[Excerpted from the March/April 2018 issue of Emmanuel. Brother John R. Barker, OFM, is a Franciscan friar of the Province of Saint John the Baptist (Cincinnati, Ohio) and Assistant Professor of Old Testament Studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.]
A key idea in the readings this week is the building up of the church. With the arrival of Saul, who will soon become Paul, the missionary impetus of the church will kick into high gear and the church will spread far and wide, growing in numbers. But more importantly, the church is built up through the strength of each member’s relationship with Christ, which the readings speak of as “remaining in Christ,” a favorite phrase in the Johannine literature, represented this week by both the epistle and the Gospel.
The image of the vine dominates the gospel reading. In the Old Testament, Israel is often spoken of as a vine planted by the Lord (Psalm 80, for example). Only when it is carefully tended by God can the vine flourish; apart from God the vine languishes, falling prey to drought or depredation. Now the church is likened to a vine, grown by the Father, luxurient with branches all connected and receiving life from the “true vine.” Just as God has entrusted his flock to the Good Shepherd, so he has entrusted his vine to Christ.