Vine Dressing, Vine Blessing
Easter 5, Week of Sunday May 10
Bible: John 15:1-8
‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes* to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12 ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
Remember this is written in an environment where the vine was a key source of food and wine. The imagery of this text is as familiar to its first audience, as imagery about cars or TV, would be for today's city dweller. Many of today's city dwellers have never touched a vine, let alone know anything about pruning and husbandry. So we are distant from the text, rather than it being particularly mystical.
The vine grower still removes unfruitful branches. They are still burned in the fire; it helps with disease control. There is a very practical lesson in plant husbandry here, which is then applied to the followers of Jesus.
Some parts of our heritage imagine a vengeful God, ever ready to judge and punish. To be sure, early Hebrew traditions knew of a jealous God. But from the experience of Jesus, and of the messengers of God before him, John has been able to say God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him, and For God so loved the world... (3:17, 16)
We need to forget the burning images of Matthew (eg:13:42,50 etc), here we are reading John. Remember the vine dresser who wants the best for the vine.
In Jesus and John's day there was no buzz-cut, impersonal machine pruning. It could only be done by hand. I've spent hours pruning vineyards. I confess to talking to the vines, sometimes. "Sorry mate, it's going to cause you grief if we leave all this on. You'll be better if we cut you short, and let you bulk up."
The dresser knew his vines, and wanted the best harvest, what was best for the vine. Do you understand this? This stuff about commandments has a purpose: I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. As 10:10 says, I have come that you may have life in all its fullness.
Our God is like the vine dresser. In this loving context we are reassured: You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. In this loving context we are reminded the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. In this loving context we are warned Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers...
This is not the threat of judgment. This is telling us the reality. We can't partake of the benefits of Christ unless we are part of him. The branch cannot bear fruit if it cuts itself off from the vine. This is a cry of love from the one we know will lay down his life for his friends. (v13)
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!