“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide 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. I 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. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. (NRSV)
First of all, I have to say I love this passage. I chose it for my ordination verse, so many years ago. There is so much here I could probably write on it every day this week! But I should probably refrain, because there are some other really rich passages this week that deserve attention too!
Verse 5, “I 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.” is the key for me. It is about being connected. Being tapped into the vine that provides nourishment from the soil through the roots is such a powerful metaphor of the interdependence of all of us on the gift of life from God. I stand in awe and gratitude that we are invited into such a powerful relationship with the source of all being.
It also is clear that there is a responsibility involved in being part of this community of soil, roots, vine and branch. We are intended to bear fruit. Bearing fruit is what a vine does. Paul tells us in Galatians 5:22-23 that the fruit of being connected to the vine is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Just as a grape vine is expected to grow grapes, a Christ-vine is expected to grow love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
I recognize that the metaphor is most apt when we consider that this is not referencing our modern or post-modern individualism. Both John and Paul are writing for communal oriented societies. Jesus lived and taught to people who did not have a sense of individuality but of mutuality. We might think the metaphor breaks down because unlike a concord grape vine is not expected to grow chardonnay grapes, a Christ-vine is expected to grow all of the fruits. But remember, the Christ-vine is the whole church. Among us all we will find all the fruits all the time, even though in any given moment I might be strong in generosity but weak in patience, but you might be strong in patience and you can help me grow in that way, while I might be able to help another who is weak in generosity. Within the community, we need each other to have them all covered.
It is too tall an order to expect that we, individually, will be able to have a bumper crop of each of the fruits of the Spirit all the time. It is tempting to try to propel others to excel by pushing hard. It is easy to end up being harsh with those we are close to if we have too high of expectations. Mercy and grace are required. Gentleness is an especially important fruit to grow, and you and your family (both your church family and your biological family) are part of creation that you are meant to be gentle with! So be gentle with yourself and each other as you seek to grow on this Christ-vine.
blessings to you,
Scripture quotations are 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.