Of which Vine are you the Branch?

One Italian animated movie that I will never forget is La Gabbianella e Il Gato (the seagull and the cat). In summary, it is the story of a seagull that hatches among cats. She grows up thinking and living like cats. But Zorba, a cat that was friends with her mother Lucky, but died after laying her egg, tries to convince her that she is a seagull. It takes some years before she takes his advice and tries to exercise her wings. After flapping her wings a few times, she regains her true self and can fly across the sky in utter jubilation. She is completely set free from a false identification; now she can soar in the sky and give of herself to the world as the seagull she is meant to be.

Native American Indians have a similar story. It is about a man who finds an eagle’s egg and puts it in the nest of a prairie chicken. The eaglet hatches with a brood of prairie chickens. All through his life, he lives and scratches the ground to eat like prairie chickens. One day, he lifts up his eyes and sees an eagle flying majestically across the blue sky. The unfortunate eagle tells one prairie chicken: “what a magnificent bird!” The chicken says to the misidentified eagle: “That is an eagle, the chief of birds. But don’t even give it a second thought because you will never be like him. We can only fly a few feet high” So, the eaglechicken grows old and dies, thinking himself to be a chicken and never flies any further than a few feet above the ground. A sad story of a false self that has taken over and suffocates the
emergence of the true self!

The difference in the two stories is clear: the seagull was able to experience redemption because she listened and believed the advice of Zorba, that she is a branch of the vine called Seagull and not of Cat! Once she grafted herself to her roots, she could fly and bear enormous fruits and be truly happy. On the contrary, the misplaced eagle grafted himself to a false vine called Prairie Chickens. He wasted his life because he misidentified himself, grafting himself to a false vine!

These stories highlight the power in the words of Jesus: “I am the True Vine…. As the branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, but must remain part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:1-5). Our Lord is making an unequivocal statement: He is the True Vine and we are His branches. That means, any other false vine to which we try to graft ourselves is false and will be bound to ruin us and make it difficult to bear fruits. He did not say some are his branches but we ALL are his branches; every person is a child of God and we come alive when we become fully grafted to Jesus Christ, so we remain in him as he remains in us, individually and as a community. As the True Vine, Jesus places himself over and above every human ideology and institution as imperfect and flawed unless their goals and functions derive from and lead to the True Vine.

But there are so many false vines to which we tend to graft ourselves to, that we forget we are branches of the true vine, Jesus Christ. Think of how easily some people give up God and the church in allegiance to family, race, nation, friendship, business, ideology, etc. These are as good as they are rooted in the True Vine, Our Lord, and so we can bear genuine and life-giving fruits. May we always have the courage of the apostles “We must obey God rather than human beings” (Acts 5:9), and refuse to be cut off from the True Vine, Jesus Christ. Amen

~ Fr. Cornelius Okeke