A friend of mine kept bees once upon a time. And as we were chatting about his pastime, he mentioned a point that had never occurred to me before.
“There’s no such thing as ‘bee,’” he said. “Only ‘bees’. They exist only in colonies—each doing its part to ensure that the hive functions like one large organism.”
It seems like an odd sort of reality, especially to an American—someone weaned on the mother’s milk of freedom and independence. Apparently, though, it works pretty well for bees, this ‘one-for-all; all-for-one’ communal thing.
And hearing Sunday’s gospel, I detected an echo of same sort of wisdom in Jesus’ image of the vine and the branches.
‘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…
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…will bear much fruit,
because without me you can do nothing.’
Usually, when I encounter this passage from the Gospel of John, my focus settles on the notion of pruning: What God is doing to me, to make me more fruitful.
This time, I noticed something a bit different: Jesus refers to the branches. Plural.
And to the fruit that the branches are meant to bear. And it occurred to me that grapes are kinda like bees: They come only in bunches.
If you read between the lines, it’s almost like Jesus is saying, ‘One grape ain’t much use in the kingdom of God….’
And all of a sudden, my self-centered notions of ‘abiding’ in Christ start to tremble a bit. ‘Pruning’ starts to look less like something that’s done for my good—an exercise required for personal salvation—and more like something that’s done for the good of the world.
I can’t honestly say it’s an entirely bee-autiful image to me. I tend to get stuck in my ‘self’ and in its voracious ‘needs’—so I’m not sure how ready I am for the Vinegrower to take all that away.
Which, of course, is precisely the kind of question that bees never seem to ask. Their selflessness, on some level, is their salvation.
And my salvation—our salvation—is Christ. So thank goodness for that. Thank goodness—as the evangelist notes elsewhere—‘God is greater than our hearts.’
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy One.