By Father Ted

In the front yard of my house growing up, we had a bank of azaleas that ran along the west side of the lawn. They were gorgeous: think Amen Corner at the Masters. Our one-acre lot had all kinds of azaleas, but those particular bushes bloomed pink and white; they were an explosion of color. But there was another plant, a stubborn vine, that would grow up among the azaleas: honeysuckle.

Now honeysuckle is one of the most romanticized plants in the south. All Southerners know the joy of walking by a honeysuckle plant, breathing in its intoxicating fragrance, and plucking a few flowers to taste the sweet nectar inside. But the best honeysuckle vine is the one that grows in someone else’s yard. Our honeysuckle vines would grow throughout the azaleas, working their way from the base of the plant out to its farthest branches. If left untended, the honeysuckle would eventually fill out the entire azalea bush and choke it to death. So every year, we would climb into the azaleas, pull out as much honeysuckle as we could, trying not to damage the bushes, and clip the vines at the ground. Honeysuckle is hard to irradicate from your yard, but it’s pretty simple to keep in check.

There was another vine that laughed at our efforts to keep in check: smilax. Smilax grows from ever expanding matrices of tubers in the ground, sending up soft, pliable vines with pale, waxy, green leaves to the tops of the tallest trees. Once a smilax vine made it to the top of a tree, it would spread out like a blanket, creating its own canopy, absorbing all the sun’s rays before they could get to the tree, eventually killing it. Getting rid of smilax required a two-pronged approach of digging up the tubers (the devil’s potato) and pulling the fifty-foot-long vines from the trees. However, having smilax in your yard wasn’t always a curse; it made for beautiful decor, particularly around Christmastime. Even when cut, smilax would stay green and beautiful for days or weeks. Just a few vines were enough to make a lovely statement over a doorway, a fireplace mantle, or across a dining room table. I can remember hauling baskets of it over to the church so that it could be draped over the high altar for Christmas Eve.

Usually, the tallest and most striking plants in yards are trees; our back yard was ruled by an enormous tulip poplar and an equally impressive magnolia. But the most interesting plant of any great stature in our front yard wasn’t a tree at all; it was a vine. It was the result of thousands of confederate jasmine vines that completely engulfed a telephone pole. That particular pole carried phone and electric lines to our and our neighbors’ house. For years, the vines climbed to the top of the telephone pole and grew out over the powerlines, creating a tangled, massive column ten feet in diameter of dark green leaves and fragrant, star-shaped flowers. But one day, the weight of the jasmine became too much for the powerlines to bear, and the vines ripped the lines out of our neighbor’s house, leaving our friends without electricity for a day or two.

After hearing Jesus tell us last week that he is the good shepherd, this week he tells us that he is the true vine. Unlike the vines in our yard that tried to destroy the trees in our yard, this true vine is there to give life, abundant life to all who are a part of it. But it doesn’t do so by staying neatly where it is planted; it is also invasive: winding and climbing its way through creation. But instead of starving the plants below of sunshine, the true vine causes the plants below to bear fruit worthy of God. The true vine has all the power of confederate jasmine, all the allure of honeysuckle, and all the grit of smilax, with a will to grow and survive that cannot be rooted out. Jesus’ metaphor of a vine that abides in us and causes us to bear fruit is one that I find particularly meaningful because I spent a lot of time among the vines of the yard of my childhood home. And for all the awesome things I saw those vines do, I know that Christ can and will do more.

Father Ted +

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