“I am the Vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15)
This is such a beautiful image of what it means for followers of Christ to be connected to Jesus, the very source of life. No branch in a vineyard will grow and flourish if it’s detached from the main vine. It’s simply not possible.
Jesus said that the Father is vinedresser and he, himself, is the true vine. The true vine is the source for each branch – it feeds it, and gives it strength. All plants need fertile soil and room to grow, not just grapes. All who follow Jesus need him to be the source of continued life and strength in our lives, or else we will wither away and die – if not physically, then for sure spiritually. We won’t even know we are dead until we wake up one day and wonder what happened to us. How did we become so disconnected from the holy? How did we become so far away from the presence of God? How did our relationships end up in shambles – like parched plants thirsting for water when the water is only a few inches away?
Jesus taught his disciples (which includes us), that we have to stay attached to the root of the vine or we die; we cannot live on our own or bear fruit on our own. When we abide in him – remain with him – are loyal to him – then we continue to grow and bear much fruit for the kingdom.
We often wonder why the world seems so out of control, don’t we? Things just don’t make sense a lot of the time. People don’t seem to truly care about one another’s thoughts or ideas – they only want to push their own agendas, no matter what it might cost the community as a whole. It’s everyone ought for himself it seems. Confusion and lack of clear identity is an ongoing problem in our culture (and by identity I mean our identity as Children of God). People are swayed by the images and messages of popular culture – of what is “in” right now. But as the author of Ecclesiastes once said, “ There’s new under the sun.” Every generation has said that, and every generation will continue to utter the same lament.
The vineyard of Isaiah’s day still resembles what we see in our world today. Wild, untamed, invasive vines. The vineyard was God’s people, to be sure, but just because the people belonged to God, didn’t not mean they acted like it. (See? Nothing new under the sun!) God worked with them, loved them, gave them what they needed and they went wild. The vineyard today still consists of people that God loves and are made in his own image – but many of our friends and neighbors don’t know the Vinedresser at all. And they can’t figure out why they’re so lost either (that is if they would ever admit to being lost.)
Enter Jesus into the equation – God’s son who was sent into the world to save the vineyard and to keep the vineyard alive and well. That doesn’t just happen by some magic trick – as if Jesus snapped his fingers and voila – the vineyard is miraculously weed free, and untangled, and bearing sweet fruit. No, there has to be abiding and pruning. Our faith compels us to stick with Christ, putting him at the center of our lives (which is the first thing) and trusting him to prune our lives so that we might grow and blossom and bear more and better fruit in his name.
Like all plants, we who are God’s branches, need pruning.
Well that’s all well and good – you can see that plainly in Jesus’ words. But what does it look like to be pruned? And how do we know that’s what’s happening versus the times when the world and the enemy are inflicting pain on us and tempting us to sin?
It starts with an awareness that Jesus is with us and is working within us what he started on the cross. He gave his life so we would have life. When we come to the realization that Jesus wants to form and shape our lives into lives that look like his (and give over control to him, then the pruning begins. Jesus starts to work in us to remove all the branches that are dead wood: hatred, selfishness, anger, idolatry, and so on. He trims those branches when he sees them – he speaks to us through his holy Word and he pokes and prods us with that still small voice that says, “You are loved and forgiven. Bear good fruit for the kingdom.” When we exhibit behaviors that are contrary to his holy will, he cuts and snips at us some more, seeking to remove that wild branch. It’s not easy. It’s not a quick fix. And it’s not really any fun. But it is necessary.
What happens through this spiritual pruning is that we are transformed into his likeness. Slowly but surely, he works within us to make us bear much fruit and good fruit for the kingdom. Jesus once said, “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:43-45)
So the next time you find yourself struggling – perhaps with feelings you don’t like, or about the ways in which you’ve acted that you know aren’t right – remember, Jesus is with you. He will abide in you and you in him. And if you’re hurting, he might just be pruning you to make your stronger.