I am the Vine, you are the branches

a tale of three prepositions

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a reflection by Fr. Dennis Gallagher

What’s in a preposition? When it comes to understanding the Christian life, quite a bit. Take three of them – for, with, and in – and consider their relative force as each one relates to our relationship to Christ. I will proceed in ascending order.

The preposition “for” suggests a cause to which I give my life. Is it true to say that to become a Christian is to enlist my life in the cause of Christ, to fly under his banner, so to speak? In a qualified sense, I suppose this can be the case. The problem is that my person exists at a certain remove from a cause. It may succeed in stirring up my passion and giving a purposeful direction to my life, but as such it’s not so different from any other cause – communism or pacifism or animal rights. Does it suffice to say that as a Christian I have advanced the cause of Christ in the world?

The preposition “with” represents a significant step closer to describing the true nature of the Christian life, which is, at its core, interpersonal. To be a disciple is, in the first place, to be with Christ, to be in his company, to learn from him. He is not a cause to which I give my allegiance, but a person to whom I relate. Jesus is, after all, Emmanuel, God-with-us, and his ministry was essentially a sharing of life with us. The depth of this interpersonal bond is signified by his breaking bread with us, to become our companion for the journey.

For all of that, the Christian life attains its greatest depth by being life “in” Christ. This is the sacramental dimension of being a Christian, of being incorporated into the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. When St. Paul affirms “my life is Christ,” he does not mean that he’s taken up the cause of Christ or that Christ is his best friend, but that Christ lives in him, that there has become a total identification of his person with that of Christ. To be a Christian from day to day is not striving after something beyond our reach, but rather living from the mystery of God’s indwelling. It’s always a matter of becoming what we already are.