The True Vine

Jesus said 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 everyone 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.
Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned.
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask
for whatever you want and it will be done for you.
By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” 
John 15:1-8
One of the “I am” statements of Jesus from the Gospel of John is that he is the true vine and we are the branches of that vine. This metaphor of Jesus expresses our relationship of utter and intimate dependence upon him. 

In the icon above we see that Christ is the vine and the Apostles are the branches that went out to preach the Word to the ends of the earth. The Lord’s arms are outstretched as he gives the blessing as a bishop in the Orthodox Church, with the fingers of both hands forming the the Greek letters “IC XC” which is an abbreviation for Jesus Christ.  In his lap is an open Gospel Book and in his halo are the Greek letters of the words “I AM”, echoing the name by which God revealed himself to Moses (Ex. 3:14).

On either side of Jesus are the Apostles Peter (on the left) and Paul (on the right) with five more of the Apostles on either side holding gospels and epistles. We see a similar image below, with full figures of Christ and the Apostles rather than busts, and Christ is both the True Vine and the Tree of Life.


 In these images, Christ is the source and root of the branches. The Apostles represent all of us as we seek to act upon the command of Jesus to go out into the world.

My favorite depiction of Jesus as the vine is the complex program of images in the 12th century apse mosaic from the church of San Clemente in Rome (seen above and with detail image). Here we see an explicit connection between the cross of Christ, the Church, and the supernatural growth of the vine. In this scene the base of the cross is set in an acanthus bush, with fifty volutes scrolling outward from it. The acanthus was an ancient Greek and Roman symbol for abundance and new life. It was used extensively by the Roman emperor Augustus (31BC-14AD) to indicate that his rule instituted a new Golden Age and can be seen on monuments of his rule, especially the Ara Pacis Augustae. An inscription in Latin reads: “We have likened the Church of Christ to this vine; the Law made it wither but the Cross made it bloom.” The Church is thus rendered as the new Garden of Eden.

At the apex of the apse we see Christ depicted as ruler, flanked by the symbols of the four Gospel writers (from left to right: lion/Mark, winged man/Matthew, eagle/John, Ox/Luke). Around the apse are also the figures of several prophets and saints. At the base of the apse, flanking the sheep, the images of two cities are represented: Bethlehem (left) and Jerusalem (right), the locations of the birth and death of Jesus. So we have here both the earthly and the heavenly realms.

The figures of the Virgin Mary and John the Beloved Evangelist flank the image of Jesus on the cross. Situated above the altar of the basilica, it represents Christ as the True Vine who offers himself in the Eucharist and the sacrificial cup. The eleven doves on the cross represent the Apostles as well as the Holy Spirit, which has breathed its spirit into them so they will become fruitful for the Kingdom. The hand of God reaches down from the heavens above, completing the image of the Trinity.

The Apostles are also represented as the twelve sheep at the bottom of the apse, facing the central sheep with halo, which symbolizes Jesus as the Lamb of God. Beneath the acanthus, the four rivers of Paradise flow forth from the cross, showing that Christ is both the Source of Life and the new Adam. Deer drink from the streams of living water (As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God. Ps. 42). Peacocks are present, ancient symbols of resurrection. Among the scrolling volutes are several Church Fathers, including Gregory, Jerome, Augustine, and Ambrose. Abundant birds, fruits and vegetation fill the spaces among the volutes. All of this abundance is possible because of the cross of Christ. What was meant to be a symbol of death has become, literally, the source of life.


Jesus is the vine and we are called to be the fruitful branches that grow and reach out to what Pope Francis calls “the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents, and of all misery.” Both Jesus and the Holy Father warn us against a self-centered approach to faith that focuses only upon our own salvation. We are called to venture out to others, especially to those out in the periphery of society, the poor, the sick, the outcast, the forgotten. 

Francis also writes: “This is really very important to me: the need to become acquainted with reality by experience, to spend time walking on the periphery in order really to become acquainted with the reality and life-experiences of people. If this does not happen we then run the risk of being abstract ideologists or fundamentalists, which is not healthy.”

This is not an easy command for me, to go out to unfamiliar territory, to come face to face with pain and suffering, at times to face hostility and danger. Part of me (okay, a big part!) wants to rebel, to remain comfortable and self-centered in my faith, to just attend church and stay within the margins. I’ve come to realize that if I try to reach out on my own, I will inevitably fail. I cannot do this without resting in the True Vine that nourishes and sustains me: Christ crucified and resurrected. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” Only through uniting with Christ will I be able to bear witness to my calling to be fruitful. Jesus is the vine and through Him I can carry the fruits of the Holy Spirit:  love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal.5:22).

The Good Shepherd

The reading today is Good Shepherd passage so let’s look at that imagery from ancient times.

Infinite Windows

Good Shepherd, fresco, artist unknown, Catacomb of Priscilla Good Shepherd, fresco, artist unknown, Catacomb of Priscilla

(Click on images for larger view)

Does your idea of Jesus include the image of the Good Shepherd? Paintings and sculpture of this figure date to ancient times and the Catacombs of Rome contain about 150 such images, showing that this was certainly a popular portrayal of Jesus for early Christians.

I am the good shepherd.
The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep…
My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord;
I know them, and they follow me.
John 10:14, 27

When Jesus disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them,
for they were like sheep without a shepherd;
and he began to teach them many things.
Mark 6:34

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The Goodness of Creation

This seems appropriate to reblog on Earth Day, albeit a bit late in the day.

Infinite Windows

The Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh; 1889, oil on canvas, 73.7 x 92.1 cm, Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh; 1889, oil on canvas, 73.7 x 92.1 cm, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

In The Starry Night, perhaps Van Gogh’s most famous and beloved painting, he has poured out his feelings of awe and wonder at God’s creation. He depicts The Starry Night as a swirling mass of deep blue space punctuated by blazing stars. This violent energy erupts above a peaceful, idyllic village with the cypress tree at left twisting upwards to connect the earthly and heavenly realms. Be sure to click on the painting to look closely at the larger version. You can see the details of Van Gogh’s brush strokes heavily loaded with pigment, his delicate yet confident outlines of the buildings, and the harmonious half circles of the trees that both echo and yet contrast with the drama of the whirling sky. By placing the cypress tree in the left foreground Vincent…

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This week’s readings return once again to the nocturnal meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus, so let’s have another look at this Tanner image and listen once more to the song by David Crowder.

Infinite Windows

Arguably the most popular verse in the Bible is John 3:16, which is included in today’s Gospel reading.

Nicodemus, Henry O. Tanner, 1899, oil on canvas 85.6 x 100.3 cm., Pennsylvania  Academy of the Fine Arts. Nicodemus, Henry O. Tanner, 1899, oil on canvas 85.6 x 100.3 cm., Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia.

Jesus said to Nicodemus:
“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

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Finding God Through Art

Golden Fire

Golden Fire II, Makoto Fujimura
Mineral Pigments, Gold on Kumohada

Makoto Fujimura is a contemporary artist who paints abstract works in the Japanese style, called Nihonga. Not being a specialist in contemporary art (to put it mildly!) I just learned about him today from Jody Thomae’s blog, God’s Creative Gift.  She posted the video, below, of the artist discussing his discovery that Jesus is the source of beauty and creativity. Enjoy.


Do Not Be Afraid!


Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce the news to his disciples.

And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage.
Continue reading

Running to the Empty Tomb


The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Sepulchre on the Morning of the Resurrection, c.1898  Eugene Burnand, Oil on canvas 81 x 141 cm  Musee d'Orsay, Paris

The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Sepulchre on the Morning of the Resurrection, c.1898 Eugene Burnand, Oil on canvas 81 x 141 cm Musee d’Orsay, Paris

This is a lovely exercise from Ignatian Press Arts & Faith on the painting above by Eugene Burnand:

The Resurrection

Resurrection by Deiric Bouts, 1455 Distemper on linen 89.9 x 74.3 cm, The Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena

Resurrection by Deiric Bouts, 1455 Distemper on linen 89.9 x 74.3 cm, The Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena

Dieric Bouts was a Northern Renaissance artist whose paintings clearly reflect the naturalism and interest in landscapes and surfaces that is so symptomatic of Flemish works, though he paints in a quiet idiom that is all his own. Bouts’ subtle vision is readily apparent in his 1455 painting of The Resurrection which is now at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena.  Continue reading