Ancient Roman Marble trapezophoros (table support),
1st century B.C.,
Carved marble table support
© Metropolitan Museum, New York
My Father is the vinedresser
Jesus said to his disciples:
'I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.
Every branch in me that bears no fruit he cuts away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes to make it bear even more.
You are pruned already, by means of the word that I have spoken to you. Make your home in me, as I make mine in you.
As a 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. Anyone who does not remain in me is like a branch that has been thrown away – he withers; these branches are collected and thrown on the fire, and they are burnt.
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask what you will and you shall get it. It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit, and then you will be my disciples.'
Reflection on the Roman Marble Table Support
In order to prove His point, Jesus constantly used the world around Him, the scenery around Him, the nature surrounding Him. As He was walking with the disciples, He was probably walking past some vineyards and using those to make His point in our reading today. Everyday scenery was used to teach. Artists of course also use what surrounds them for inspiration and for stylistic motifs on artefacts and decorative objects, such as our Roman table here. This table, dating back to the 1st century BC, probably stood in the atrium of the house of a wealthy family. Featuring stylised vine motifs, it would not only refer to the house's hospitality where an abundance of food and wine would be served but also, in pre-Christian times, have symbolised the harvest of life and Bacchus.
When artists use elements of nature that surround them, they are ambassadors of nature. They reveal the beauty of nature and bear witness to what is out there. I often think of Jesus as an artist. Vincent Van Gogh called Jesus "an artist greater than all other artists". This is what he wrote in a letter dated 28 June 1888: "Christ alone, of all the philosophers, magicians, etc., has affirmed eternal life as the most important certainty, the infinity of time, the futility of death, the necessity and purpose of serenity and devotion. He lived serenely, as an artist greater than all other artists, scorning marble and clay and paint, working in the living flesh. In other words, this peerless artist, scarcely conceivable with the blunt instrument of our modern, nervous and obtuse brains, made neither statues nor paintings nor books. He maintained in no uncertain terms that he made … living men, immortals."
…this depth of faith Van Gogh shows here is one of the reasons why his works are so captivating, even though few of his subject matters are overtly Christian…
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