Arbor day 1989, I come home from school with a runt-of-the-litter little sapling that I was determined to plant and grow in our yard. I had been convinced by a presentation at my elementary school that planting trees was the way to save the world. My mom was convinced this sad little sapling was going to die in the first week it was planted. It did not.
Now the tree is so large that my parents have to regularly have it trimmed so that it doesn’t harm the house. It is a healthy, fully grown conifer. Why? Because it was connected to a good source of water and food. It was planted in good soil.
Every single Arbor Day sapling my poor daughters have brought home has not been so lucky. Whether they rot in our fridge waiting to be planted or whither in the yard for lack of water, these poor things never make it. Why? They aren’t connected to a good source of water and food.
In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus explains that he is the vine and we are the branches. God the Father is the vine grower. The analogy that Jesus is making is so helpful for the spiritual life because it demonstrates clearly that being connected to Jesus Christ is a life or death reality.
To be cut off from God doesn’t mean someone is a bad person. To be cut of from God is to be a dead person.
Morality, right and wrong, isn’t some list of arbitrary rules that someone made up long ago that we have to reevaluate in each new generation. No, the purpose of leading a moral life is to be connected to the source of all life, Jesus Christ. The rules of the moral life don’t exist for their own sake. The rules exist to keep us connected to the source of life. One direction leads to life. One direction leads to death.
The reality is that most who are away from God don’t have a defining moment they cut themselves off from God. Most people drift, slowly and painlessly, away from God. At some point they have forgotten what is like to even been connected with the source of life. At this point, sin and death feel normal.
Yet, when we find ourselves disconnected from God and thus disconnected from his body, the Church, we may sense that something isn’t quite right. We may not notice it right away. We may not recognize it constantly, but in the small hours or when we are alone or when we are ambushed by a moment of unexpected silence, we can feel the withering, the drying out of our life.
The good news is that we are never too far gone for God. The vine grower has the supernatural capacity to connect us again to the source of life and to fill us again with goodness, love, beauty, and grace. There is nothing we can do to stop God from loving us. God is willing to go the distance to give us life again. Not because we deserve it, but because of his unconditional love for us.
Go outside. Go find a tree and take 5 or more minutes in silence near it. Be reminded that just as it needs water, good soil, and sunlight, you need to be connected to God to live. Ask God to bring you close to him.