Today Catholic Christians celebrated the Fifth Sunday of Easter.
On this day, in the selection from the Gospel of John, we hear Jesus saying to his disciples:
“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” (John 15: 1-5).
When many people read this passage, they imagine that “pruning” means dead branches are cut and burned. When this happens, the branch still attached to the plant becomes more fruitful. But in some instances, the gardener replants the pruned branch, and this branch grows and flourishes on its own. Often we forget this type of pruning.
In the following story, we hear how one woman named Leisl Stoufer learned how God pruned her. As a result, not only did she grow, but God blessed the branches he cut off and they, too, are flourishing.
Leisl is a devoted woman who treasures the Bible and tries to live by its principles. She never had a problem with the idea of Jesus being a vine, and she a branch. She always believed that by being close to the Lord, she would bear much fruit. But like many people, she never focused much on the “pruning” part of the story, for pruning means cutting, and cutting can be scary and painful.
God, however, taught Leisl that sometimes pruning is good not only for the person who is pruned, it can also be good for the part pruned. She learned this by two experiences.
Leisl’s first experience happened with her youth ministry. Six years previously, Leisl founded a youth ministry for her church. She loved this ministry intensely. For six years, she tended, nurtured, and poured her heart and soul into this group of young people. She loved the youth, and they loved her. She found great joy in serving this group, and she always thanked God for being allowed to serve in this manner.
Then, God began calling Leisl to new challenges and callings in her life, and she had to let go of the youth ministry. With a heavy heart, she left the ministry to a new leader. The new leader, and the group, is flourishing without Leisl. God allowed Leisl to develop the group, but now it was time to leave. This was how God pruned Leisl the first time.
Then, Leisl was forced to make another painful decision, a decision that was even harder than leaving the youth ministry. Her son fifteen-year-old son, Cody, had severe mental illness. For the last few years, he had been telling Leisl that he wanted to go to Texas to live with his father. Letting go of her son was the hardest thing Leisl ever did, but she knew that it was God’s will for her and for Cody. For a second time, Leisl got pruned.
The youth group that Leisl let go of is on a new journey with its new leader, and it is flourishing. Likewise, her son and his father are on a journey of their own now, and they are flourishing. Meanwhile, Leisl is now growing in new directions and exploring avenues she never new she would be called to travel. That’s what happens when pruning is done correctly.
From the Scripture, and from Leisl’s story, we can learn many things. Here are just three.
First, like a vine, we too must remain connected to the main plant or die. Our “main plant” is, of course, God. We stay connected by daily prayer, living our vocations as best we can, and serving God by serving others.
Second, the “fruits” that Jesus talks about refers to two different things. On one hand, fruits refer to the many blessings we have such our family, friends, talents, and the like. But fruits also refer to how we live our lives. When we live in accordance with God’s will, that is the “fruit of the vine.” So people could be poor, in prison, deathly sick, or whatever, and yet be fruitful if they are living in the light of Christ through their actions.
And third, times of pruning can be painful. Like Leisl in our story, pruning often means we suffer losses in our lives. These losses, however, often help us grow and flourish in new and exciting ways. People who have lived long lives, upon reflection, often say that the times of greatest spiritual growth came about because of times of sorrow and loss – the times of pruning.
As we continue our life journeys this week, it would be a good idea to reflect on the times God has pruned us. What was that life? How did we grow from the pruning?
And that is the good news I have for you on this Fifth Sunday of Easter, 2018.
Story source: Leisl Stoufer. “I Got Pruned! (A Story of The Vine and The
Branches). Bold Faith Ministries, November 1, 2012.