Sunday’s Gospel reading asks us to contemplate the meaning of the vine grower, the vine, and the branches. We are told the vine grower is the Father, the vine is the Son and the branches, his creatures.
How does human freedom have anything to do with our story? The answer is—plenty. Every once and a while, Christians need to take a step back and examine the gift of freedom because when we lose sight of it, and forget what it is, we are more inclined to misuse it.
Human freedom is not an absolute independence. A creature never has absolute freedom, for that is only a characteristic of the divine. Our very natures are dependent on God for our very life. A person hasn’t the control over his life, for that too is a characteristic of God. He doesn’t have the right to decide when he is born or when he will die. Nor does he have the power to decide how his kidney and liver functions. Every person is dependent upon the grace of God for his very existence, each and every day God sustains our life by his grace.
Any level of dependence is a tough notion with creatures who have free will. Often, we are full of ourselves believing through my industriousness I have created a world for myself. Sure, I worked hard to attain a level of education, or I work hard for the material things I own. I am proud of what I have accomplished. To some degree, you should. But it could never happen if God did not first sustain your life.
What should become obvious in the vintner imagery is the Father the source and along with Christ they supply all the necessary nutrients we, as branches need. The summary is succinct, although it still lacks the explanation of how the branches can be free if they are attached to the Son and Father.
When we add the element of free will, a more extensive picture immerges. All of you have seen bushes with healthy branches, while at other times, you may have noticed a living bush with some vibrant branches coexisting with dead or sickly ones.
In our story, the healthy branches are the ones which rely on the vine, using their human freedom in concert with God’s will. The result is a healthy branch ready and willing to produce much fruit. The fruit is produced for others to use, a branch has no need of it. Here is where human freedom working with God, “feeds” others. A perfect example for a Christian because this is exactly what Jesus does in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
Those who use their freedom for themselves alone, do not die right away. They are still alive and all energy they need to survive apart from the vine is used for their sub-par existence. All they care about is surviving to next hour, the next day. What a horrible way to live life.
When human freedom is used in union with God, life flourishes. When the use of freedom is only for selfish reasons, the branch will be sickly and unable to produce fruit, even for itself.