I am the Vine, You are the Branches
By Rev. Canon David B. Tabo-oy
v1″I am the real vine, and my Father is the gardener. v2He breaks off every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and he prunes every branch that does bear fruit, so that it will be clean and bear more fruit. v3You have been made clean already by the teaching I have given you. v4Remain united to me, and I will remain united to you. A branch cannot bear fruit by itself; it can do so only if it remains in the vine. In the same way you cannot bear fruit unless you remain in me.
v5″I am the vine, and you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me. v6Those who do not remain in me are thrown out like a branch and dry up; such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire, where they are burned. v7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, then you will ask for anything you wish, and you shall have it. v8My Father’s glory is shown by your bearing much fruit; and in this way you become my disciples. John 15:1-18
In this week’s reflection I chose the gospel lesson appointed in the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) from the gospel of John. It is one of the “I am” sayings of Jesus Christ. In order to underscore his points and consequently added beauty and flavor Jesus used allegories and images in his teaching method. He used words to paint the picture that he wanted to convey for clarity and relevance. In last week’s gospel lesson Jesus taught the disciples and us that he is a caring leader and is willing to lay down his life for the flock by likening himself as the Good Shepherd. And that he did by his ultimate sacrifice in Calvary. This week let us look at Jesus as the Vine.
Jesus said, “I am the vine, and you are the branches.” Just recently many of us have turned to plantitos and plantitas – plant lover converts especially when the lockdowns due to the pandemic started. While most of us have turned our energies to the delight of gardening or planting something and watch their growth but only few can relate to or understand the tending of grapevines. While there are already vineyards in La Union what this gardening magazine tells about grapevines could help us relate and understand our lesson about grapes. It says, “There is virtually no plant more amenable to training than the grapevine.” In general, you let a new plant grow freely for a year. The next year you cut off all but one cane. You trim that one back to two or three buds. You pinch back any growth too low to the ground. You stake it, let it grow a foot taller, then pinch it back. The next year you let two branches grow on each side and cut the others back. You remove buds if there are too many on any branch. The fruit will be too small if the nourishment is spread too thin. Each season you cut back the fruited canes to make room for the new. The article ends, “All these steps must be repeated annually.” To the non-gardener, who hasn’t gotten around to mulching for a few years, this tending grapes sounds like a lot of work.
Merrill Tenney gives his observation about the work of a vinedresser and the pruning process in his commentary on John.
In pruning a vine, two principles are generally observed: first, all dead wood must be ruthlessly removed; and second, the live wood must be cut back drastically. Dead wood harbors insects and disease and may cause the vine to rot, to say nothing of being unproductive and unsightly. Live wood must be trimmed back in order to prevent such heavy growth that the life of the vine goes into the wood rather than into fruit. The vineyards in the early spring look like a collection of barren, bleeding stumps; but in the fall they are filled with luxuriant purple grapes. As the farmer wields the pruning knife on his vines, so God cuts dead wood out from among His saints, and often cuts back the living wood so far that His method seems cruel. Nevertheless, from those who have suffered the most there often comes the greatest fruitfulness. (Merrill C. Tenney, John: The Gospel of Belief, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, pp. 227-28.)
Jesus says, “Without me you can do nothing.” In this passage, Jesus is talking to his disciples. He is saying, “Abide in me: stay with me; stay connected to me. If you don’t, you’ll just wither up.” Speaking to those already in the church, he says, “You have been pruned, trained, given every advantage.” You have to produce; else this vine will have no fruit. Just as the branches need the vine, the vine needs the branches to do what a vine does, which is bear fruit.
This calls every believer to give a serious thought on what he or she believes and how such belief be translated to others and thus “bear fruit”.
Jesus speaks of two categories of branches: fruitless and fruitful. The branches that cease to bear fruit are those who are no longer have the life in them that comes from enduring faith in and love for Christ. These “branches” the Father cuts off, i.e. separates them from vital union with Christ, God then judges and rejects them. The branches that bear fruit are those who have life in them because of their enduring faith in and love for Christ. These “branches” the Father prunes so that they will become more fruitful. That is, He removes from their lives anything that diverts or hinders the vital life flow of Christ into them. The fruit is the quality of Christian character that brings glory to God through life and witness.
The parable of the vine and the branches makes it unmistakably clear that Christ did not believe “once in the vine, always in the vine.” Rather, in this allegory Jesus gave his disciples a solemn but loving warning that it is indeed possible for true believers to ultimately abandon faith, turn their backs to Jesus, fail to remain in him, and thus to be separated from God forever.
It is not hard to see what Jesus is saying. As a church we are the vehicle, the arms, the branches by which the world is fed and cared for and by which Christ is made known. We together make up what is visible and effective about Christ in the world. Christ is the whole vine, the roots, trunk, branches and leaves. We are the branches. Christ is the whole choir, the music, the rhythm, the sound. We are the voices.
So how shall we be branches? Do we allow ourselves to be shaped, trained, sometimes pruned, sometimes stretched to a new position? These decisions male all the difference both for us and for whether the world knows the goodness of Christ, whether there is fruit to bear. The mature vine doesn’t just have one or two good branches; it has many, and you can hardly tell them from one another. What fruit do we bear? One variety is our charity and steadfastness in this times of difficulties due to the surging pandemic. While we too are at the risk of infection shall not dissuade us of sharing what we have to those in need and doing our part in preventing the spread of the virus. We must produce fruit that feeds those in need, that makes the world more like God’s vineyard even in this time of tragic events.
The story is told of a native from a remote mountain village who had the opportunity to visit a large modern city for the first time. He could not bring much home with him, and he had little money. But he was amazed at the electric lights which he saw everywhere.
So he bought a sack full of electric lights bulbs and sockets with switches so he could turn them off and on. Arriving home, he hung the light bulbs in front of his home and on his and his neighbor’s trees. Everyone watched him with curiosity and asked him what he was doing, but he just smiled and said, “Just wait until dark—you’ll see.”
When night came he turned on the switches, but nothing happened. The plugs are not connected to a power source. There are no power outlets to connect the plugs. For us to be fruitful, we must always be attached to the vine. For our lights to shine, we must always be connected to the power source – Jesus Christ our Lord. (References: NIV Full Life Study Bible; The Minister’s Annual Manual 1999-2000; eSermons.com)
Let us pray.
Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (ECP-BCP Easter 5 Collect)/**