I heard a message recently on John chapter 15, where Jesus talks about being the Vine, while we are the branches. If we want to survive and bear fruit we have to remain attached to Him, to the Vine. The pastor shared a story from the book “Secrets of the Vine” by Bruce Wilkinson. The author, Bruce, went to a vineyard to get a better understanding of how gardeners care for their vineyards to bring about the best results – lots of fruit for wine. As Bruce and the owner of the vineyard walked through the rows of huge, twisty, lush vine branches, Bruce noticed some of the branches down low were not as green or healthy and were without any fruit. “Are those the ones you cut off because they’re not bearing fruit?” he asked, thinking of the verse that said God would do that very thing – cut off any branches who aren’t producing what they were made to produce. The vineyard owner said, “No, these are often not bearing because they’re not receiving enough sunlight. Sometimes they’ve become pressed down or covered up in mud because they’re near the ground. We tie them up high so they’ll be able to drink in the sunlight – to see if they will become fruitful.”
The greek word used in John 15:2 where it says “cut off” is “airei” which can mean “taking away” but also “lifting”. That sheds a whole new light on this parable for me. I’ve had trouble in the past reconciling the wrathful, seemingly short-tempered God of most of the Old Testament with the loving, merciful God of the New Testament. In reading some stories in the Old I find myself thinking, “How could this be the same God? If He never changes and is Love, then where is the love?” I know that God is also holy and couldn’t abide by the nations that worshiped other gods or turned Israel away from Him. But this truth about the word Jesus used in telling us how God cares for his vineyard (us) encouraged me. Perhaps God doesn’t just whack us off in a split-second the moment he sees that there’s no fruit from our scrawny little branches. Perhaps he picks us up and washes the mud away – the mud of disappointment, the mud of this world and the challenges of living in it. He tenderly pulls us up and ties us to stronger, greener branches up high so that we feel the warmth of his light again, the life-giving, inspiring, nourishing light of his love. He doesn’t want to throw us away! His heart is not eager to destroy anyone, not looking for the chance to burn some twigs that aren’t doing their job. He wants to give us the chance to do better, be healthier and stronger, draw closer to him and bring forth the fruit of a close relationship with Him: love, peace, joy, goodness, gentleness, patience, kindness, self-control and more. We might even become strong enough that he’ll tie a little weak branch to us someday and we can grow alongside of them, encouraging them, hoping with them, praying for them to heal and grow.
God IS love. He is also a fearsome, powerful, holy God that cannot abide the presence of sin. He never changes. He has standards we can’t reach on our own. No wonder we need to stay close to Jesus, drawing all we need from Him, letting Him cause fruit to grow all along not only our branch, but all the branches of all our brothers and sisters, until the vineyard’s fragrance is overwhelmingly sweet to the Gardener, to God. How He would love to walk along the vine and see fruit hanging heavily, in deep shades of color, ready for harvest, and to see all the branches healthy, growing…beautiful.
Jesus said, “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off [lifts up] every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.
Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:1-5 NLT