A mouthful of fruit imagery, by Andrew Hochstedler, visiting Krakow, Poland

But Jesus’s words bear fruit

John 15:5-8 I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing . . . But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.

[Debbie] I’m posting today from Oregon, where our mission team is meeting for a few days as we do twice a year. I want to share with you part of a letter from our Syriac scholar/Franciscan friar friend Andrew who visited Krakow a few days ago. Andrew wrote:

I’m attaching an image of a 15th-century fresco of the “Mystical Winepress” from the friary cloister, one of the few pieces of early art that was not destroyed in a fire that gutted the church in the mid-19th century. 

The image shows the suffering Christ carrying his cross, except that the cross is the winepress and he is pressing himself. His own blood – the juice from the grapes – drips down into the chalice of the mass in the picture below. Above is God the Father, beside Christ is the Virgin Mary. 

It’s a stark image, as medieval paintings often are. But it also taps into the fact that the message of the cross is about real human suffering.

The Mystical Winepress, photo by Andrew Hochstedler

Am I called to be like Christ, to suffer? We all suffer at some point. It’s part of our human experience, each in different ways. There is one level at which my own sufferings can be united to Christ’s, I can come closer to him in love through my sufferings, as they allow me to accompany Christ and know him in his sufferings (Phil 3:10). I don’t have much practice with this, but I understand it to work if/when we choose to give the sufferings to him, to make them into gift rather than just meaningless pain. This a path that Francis of Assisi followed, very literally, meeting Christ even in “Sister Death.”

At another level, Christ does not need me to suffer like him. His sacrifice is enough. As one of the sisters from St. Faustina Kowalska’s community, the Congregation of our Lady of Mercy, told us during our visit last Thursday, they don’t go out seeking suffering for its own sake. However, I am called to be like the virgin Mary, doing what I can to bring Christ into the world, listening for His voice, saying “yes” to him, making each action a moment of gift so that Christ can enter my sterile life and make it fruitful, bringing love to me and others.

Jacob of Sarug, an early Syriac Christian writer, connects Mary to Christ’s winemaking, recognizing her as the vine on which Christ, the cluster of grapes, grew. In Syriac, by the way, the word for “vine” used in early versions of John 15 can also mean “vineyard”… so in that image Christ can be the vineyard and we can all be vines and/or workers in the “Christ vineyard.” Syriac Church Fathers enjoy playing with imagery that has multiple levels of meaning.

Addressing Mary, Jacob of Sarug says (in Homily on the Nativity 1),

O virginal vine, who although not pruned, gave a cluster [Christ],

behold, by whose wine creation, which was mourning, rejoices!

I love these two lines because they tie so much imagery together: (1) Mary’s virgin birth-giving, (2) Christ’s death on the cross (3) Christ’s blood which becomes Eucharistic, (4) Wine that brings rejoicing, (5) Christ as a new fruit in contrast with the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil which brought death and sorrow.

It’s a mouthful of fruit imagery to meditate on!


Your brother Andrew

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