Sarcophagus of the Three Shepherds,
Ancient Roman Sarcophagus,
Executed 370 - 380 AD,
© Vatican Museums
I am the vine, you are the branches
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 Ancient Roman Sarcophagus
This ancient Roman sarcophagus, dating from the late 4th century, was found at the catacombs of Pretestato on the Via Appia in Rome. It is particularly noteworthy for the fine quality of the sculptural decoration. Unusually, all four sides are sculpted, which means that the sarcophagus would have stood at the centre of a mausoleum. The front depicts three figures of "kriophoros" shepherds (holding sheep on their shoulders), standing on rectangular pedestals. The rest of the surface shows cupids busy harvesting among the branches of a blossoming vine.
The imagery of the shepherds and the vine and branches indicate that whoever commissioned this tomb was Christian. By the time it was made, we are a good sixty years after the conversion of Constantine (in 312AD after the battle of the Milvian Bridge), and thus Christianity was now already the dominant religion in the Roman Empire.
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus tells us, ‘I am the vine, you are the branches’. And look at how much fruit the branches are bearing on our sarcophagus! We can bear fruit only by applying the Word of God in our lives. And God has done enough to make his Word available to us: consider Mark the Evangelist, whom we celebrated yesterday. If all of us Christians were to live our lives by the teachings of the Bible, imagine what a fruit-bearing world we would live in.…
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